Urgent care centers and emergency rooms are both health care centers where patients typically do not make appointments and instead drop in on an as-needed basis; however, the type of care the two medical facilities offer differ, with urgent care facilities aimed toward more minor medical occurrences and emergency rooms aimed toward true life-threatening or otherwise serious medical conditions. For example, threats to a major body part, such as a broken bone, are considered serious enough to justify a trip to the emergency room, according to Scripps.org. Urgent care centers are appropriate for situations in which a patient would ordinarily visit his primary care physician while that doctor is not available.
This means that urgent care is a good option for individuals with pressing but not necessarily life-threatening medical needs that need immediate attention. For example, a patient who wants a prescription for cough medicine while her primary care doctor's office is closed could visit an urgent care facility instead.
As far as payment goes, the difference between an emergency room and an urgent care center may vary depending on the patient's insurance policy. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers are usually part of specific insurance networks, as describes FairHealthConsumer.org. Whether Medicare covers visits to these facilities is likely to depend on a case-by-case basis.