Choosing the right care: ER, Urgent Care, or Telehealth

In the world of American healthcare, there's a silver lining–the multitude of care options available to you. 

When your Primary Care Doctor isn't immediately accessible, you can turn to Telehealth, Urgent Care, or the Emergency Room (ER). 

Today, we'll guide you through these common healthcare routes. Understanding their unique strengths will help you make decisions that suit your health needs.  

More importantly, understanding the pros and cons of each service can lead to significant cost savings when you need to make a care decision.  

Key Takeaways:
Telehealth: With telehealth, you get high-quality care from home, with short wait times, at a lower price than an urgent care or ER visit. But a weak internet signal could compromise the quality of your visit.

Urgent Care: Urgent care centers offer shorter wait times than the ER and on-site services like X-rays. But you are exposed to waiting room germs, and they may not handle severe emergencies or complex cases like an ER can. 

Emergency Room (ER): In the ER, you can access advanced equipment, treatments, and specialists. But you may pay over $1,000 for the visit and experience long times for non-life-threatening cases. 


Emergency Room 

What: An ER provides 24-hour emergency care to patients who need urgent medical attention for severe injuries or illnesses. 


  • Immediate Care: ERs are open 24/7, providing access to medical care anytime.  
  • Advanced Equipment: ERs are equipped with medical technology for critical cases. 
  • Specialized Staff: ERs have specialized medical professionals ready to handle emergencies. 
  • Life-Saving Interventions: They can handle life-threatening situations like trauma, heart attacks, and severe injuries. 
  • Broad Scope: ERs can address a wide range of medical issues, not just emergencies. 

Cons: Expensive and long wait times. 

  • Long Wait Times: ERs can have extended wait times for non-life-threatening cases. 
  • Expensive: ER care is often costlier compared to other options like urgent care. 
  • Overuse: Sometimes, people use the ER for non-emergencies, causing congestion. 
  • Limited Follow-Up: ERs are focused on immediate care, with limited resources for long-term follow-up. 
  • Stressful Environment: The ER can be a hectic and high-stress environment, which may not be suitable for all patients. 

Cost:  Your highest copay and other possible potential fees. 

According to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute, the average ER visit cost was $1,389 in 2017, up 176% over the last decade. 

Best For: Serious injuries and illnesses such as: 

  • Pain in the chest, numbness, difficulty breathing 
  • Fevers over 103 degrees 
  • Serious burns or shocks 
  • Broken bones and dislocated joints 
  • Fainting or slurred speech 
  • Heavy bleeding 

Urgent Care 

What: Urgent Care centers are designed to treat patients suffering from injuries or illnesses that are not life-threatening.  


  • Convenience: They often offer extended hours, including evenings and weekends. 
  • Shorter Wait Times: You'll typically experience shorter wait times than ERs. 
  • Cost-Effective: Urgent care is usually more cost-effective than an ER for non-life-threatening issues. 
  • Walk-ins: No appointment is necessary; you can walk in for care. (Often a good choice if patients can't get an immediate appointment with their primary care doctor or if patients don't have one.) 
  • On-Site Services: Many urgent cares offer on-site X-rays, lab tests, and minor procedures. 

Cons: Wait times, pricing, and coverage vary. 

  • Insurance Coverage: Not all urgent care centers accept all insurance plans. 
  • Limited Scope: They may not be equipped to handle severe emergencies or complex cases. 
  • Overcrowding: Urgent care centers can become crowded, especially during peak times, potentially leading to longer wait times and a less comfortable environment. While severe and emergent cases require a trip to the emergency room, these patients sometimes come to urgent care first.   

Cost: Usually slightly higher than your primary care copay but lower than an ER copay. 

According to Socal Urgent Care, the average base cost of an urgent care visit in California ranges from $90 to $300. 

Best For: 

  • Wheezing and shortness of breath 
  • Severe vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain 
  • Fever without a rash or rash without a fever 
  • Less severe burns or minor cuts 



What: Telehealth is a real-time consultation between a patient and a doctor through phone or video on your device. 

A telehealth physician can diagnose and treat non-life-threatening medical issues, manage chronic health conditions, and prescribe medications for local pharmacy pickup. This happens in real-time, from the comfort of your home, and with low wait time. 

In 2017, the University of California Davis Health System’s Telemedicine Program found that each virtual visit conducted saved about four hours in travel time and $156 in fees. 


  • Complete Convenience: Patients can receive care from the comfort of their homes, reducing travel and wait times and waiting rooms. 
  • Accessibility: This is especially beneficial for patients in remote areas or with mobility issues. 
  • Cost-Efficiency: Telehealthcare often costs less than in-person visits. 
  • Continuity of Care: Patients can easily follow up with their regular healthcare providers. 
  • Safety: Minimizes exposure to infectious diseases for individuals with underlying health conditions. 
  • Specialist Access: Easier access to providers, even if they are located far away. 


  • Limited Physical Examination: Remote consultations may lack the ability for a thorough physical examination. 
  • Technical Challenges: Patients and providers need access to reliable internet and technology. 

Cost: The cost of a single telehealth visit can vary depending on the complexity of the consultation and the provider's fees. Many health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, now cover telehealth services. If you have insurance, your out-of-pocket costs may be reduced, but it's essential to check with your insurer to understand your coverage. 

Best For: When you first start developing symptoms and want certified answers quickly.  

  • Allergies 
  • Asthma/COPD exacerbation 
  • Cold, Flu, or Pneumonia  
  • COVID-19 
  • Cold sores and Conjunctivitis 
  • Ear, eye, bladder, sinus, yeast or UTI infections 
  • Mental health fatigue 
  • Minor sprains and strains 

None of these injuries or illnesses usually require an in-person physical examination. 

Telehealth is the perfect first step in getting more information about your pain or discomfort. Then, depending on the nature of your visit, develop a treatment plan that you can act on immediately. 

One recent study of 3 million outpatient telemedicine visits in California found that, on average, patients avoided a 17.6-mile, 35-minute commute, saving about $11 in transportation costs per visit.   

The choice is yours 

The difference between choosing the ER, Urgent Care, or Telehealth centers around the severity of the health problem. 

As always, trust your instincts when you have an urgent medical problem: If you think you should seek emergency care, do so. 

If you are experiencing symptoms, weigh your options between visiting Urgent Care or trying telehealth! 

Healthcare in America can be difficult, complex, and costly. The system often marginalizes communities, lacks universal coverage, limits preventive care, and puts many individuals in medical debt. At Rume Health, we focus on making it easier for you and your family.   


We stand for a new age of care, one built on your terms. 

Overall, telehealth has become an integral part of modern healthcare, and its role in bridging gaps in access is increasingly recognized as essential for improving healthcare outcomes and increasing patient satisfaction.

Visit Rume Health to book your virtual appointment and get seen the same day.

Our board-certified providers are on standby from 8 AM to 6:30 PM Monday through Friday to evaluate, diagnose, and treat whatever’s ailing you–and we do it all online!

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