13 INVESTIGATES: Emergency Rooms v. Urgent Care - WVTM-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: Emergency Rooms v. Urgent Care

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You've broken or sprained a limb, have a stuffy head, or have some sort of discomfort and you need healthcare in a hurry but your doctor's office is closed - or you don't have a doctor? Which do you choose? Emergency room or urgent care?

On this day, Darren Hamby has brought his mother-in-law to the ER, at Gadsden Regional Medical Center. She broke her foot.

Brought Mother-in-law to ER, Darren Hamby said, "My wife got there, we discussed it and we decided we needed to call an ambulance instead of trying to bring her in ourselves because we were afraid that she could do some damage, severe damage to a bone was already about to stick through the skin."

Fifteen minutes away in Rainbow City, Tim Choate has chosen to come here to Express Family Care for a sore throat.

Urgent Care Patient, Tim Choate said, "This is quick. You can get in, be seen, they're all just great. It's a pleasant atmosphere, Dr. Junkins, I've known him for several years and he's just a great guy."

Dr. Jason Junkins owns and operates Express Family Care. Trained in internal medicine, he opened it this time last year.

Express Family Care, Dr. Jason Junkins said, "There's a need for urgent care, with rapidly expanding patient volume and lack of primary care services that are available, urgent care sort of fills a void for people."

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, as of 2012, there were approximately 9000 urgent care centers across the country.

The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine lists 450 centers in Alabama on its website.

But what if you choose urgent care and the doctor there decides you need to go to the ER? Both the emergency room and urgent care centers work together, referring patients to each other. But is there a possibility of being double billed? The answer is yes.

Dr. Junkins said, "There are times where we do, do a workup here, do an extensive workup and they do require ultimately an emergency room visit, in those cases they do get an outpatient bill and an emergency room bill."

But if you're looking to save money on your health bill, the best place to start may be your primary care doc.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America the average cost of your primary care doctor is $100. The average cost at urgent care is $118, and ER - $300.

So how do you know when to go where?

Gadsden Regional Medical Center ER, Dr. Andy Vann said, "If you're experiencing chest pain, any signs of a heart attack and that can include pain, pressure, it can be in your chest, it can be in your arm, your shoulder, your jaw, any number of areas that are equivalent to chest pain that's an ambulance right away. Call them, come straight to the ER."

Also according to Dr. Vann, stroke symptoms like slurred speech and weakness on one side of your body are other reasons to go to the ER.

But for other minor medical issues...

Dr. Vann said, "Colds, flu's and allergies should be well covered by urgent care centers. They have the capability to treat those and investigate those in any way needed."

And while urgent care facilities have x-ray machines and some lab testing, you'll have to go to the ER for any ailment that needs a diagnosis using an MRI or CAT scan machines.

For Tim Choate and his family, they've decided to see Dr. Junkins on days they're sick and for check-ups because...

Choate said, "Like I said, you don't have to call, have an appointment, anything. You just come in, we've never had to wait long."

And that's appealing to people like Choate who are seeking healthcare without the wait and know that the ER isn't for them this time around.

Your primary care physician can also help you decide the best place to go. Also some health insurances have a nurse on call where you can get advice on the best facility for your health issue.

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