Doctor, Urgent Care or ER?
Where should I go?

A common question about health insurance.

The first step to getting the right kind of health care – and the right place to get it – is having a clear picture of your options.

When you or a loved one gets sick or injured, it can be scary. You may not know where to go for help, especially at night or on the weekend.

Making the right decision is important because your experience, not to mention your time, cost and amount of hassle, can be very different based on where you go.

This is important! All health plans are not the same! Your plan may be very different from what we're showing here. Before you buy a plan, be sure to read all the details about your cost sharing responsibilities and talk to an insurance professional to learn more.


  Your Doctor Urgent Care ER
  time and money at the doctor time and money at urgent care time and money at emergency care
Wait Time 13-34 mins1 30 mins2 Less than 2 hrs5
Visit Time 11-30 mins2 60 mins2 2 hrs and 35 mins6
When to Go Minor to Moderate Health Issues Minor to Moderate Health Issues Emergency Medical Issues

These are Minor health issues

  • Sore or strep throat
  • Urinary tract and bladder infections
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough, colds, flu
  • Earaches, ear infections
  • Minor fevers
  • Allergy symptoms
  • Skin issues (rashes, ringworm, chicken pox)
  • Pink eye
  • Head lice
  • Insect bites
  • Minor burns, cuts, scrapes
  • Sprains, strains
  • Back, neck pain

These are Moderate health issues

  • Migraines
  • Vomiting, diarrhea
  • Severe cough
  • Fevers
  • Asthma attacks (mild to moderate)
  • Eye irritation
  • Minor reactions to medications (itchiness, skin rashes, hives)
  • Animal bites
  • Wounds requiring stitches

These are Emergency medical issues

  • Chest pain
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Pain in the arm or jaw
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Severe burns or deep wounds
  • Head trauma
  • Major broken bones
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Suddenly not able to speak, see, walk or move
  • Suddenly weak or drooping on one side of the face or body


Did you know?

ER care costs almost 12X more than a doctors office visit or urgent care!7

We can all help lower the high costs of health care. By avoiding trips to the ER that aren't necessary, precious health care resources can be used to help those who truly need life-saving care.

1) Doctors & Providers

Your regular doctor or provider is the director or referee of your health care team and the person you should see for most of your medical needs.

Your regular doctor or health care provider is like your "medical home." See them for:

  • care for an illness, injury, pain or health issue
  • a prescription or refill
  • help managing a long-term condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or asthma
  • preventive care, including checkups, regular health screenings, flu shots and vaccines


Having a relationship with a primary care provider, or PCP, is important for your health. Here's why:

  • They know you and your health, and can give you the best overall care
  • You save time on paperwork and have shorter visits
  • You save money by getting regular care over time to prevent costly health problems and avoid hospitalization


time and money at the doctor

What to Expect:

  • Your typical wait time is between 13-34 minutes1 
  • You'll get between 11 - 30 minutes of face time2


Don't have a doctor or PCP yet?

Here are 5 tips for choosing a primary care provider. Try our Find a Doctor search tool to research your options.


2) Urgent Care, Convenience Care Centers & Retail Clinics

Choose an urgent care center when you doctor's office is closed or when you need an appointment sooner rather than later.

Urgent Care centers are a good choice when you need a walk-in appointment or care for a sudden, but not-life-threatening, injury or illness.


time and money at urgent care

What to Expect:

  • Your estimated wait time is 30 minutes or less3 (some centers let you set up an appointment and check in online to reduce the wait)
  • North Carolina has almost 300 dedicated Urgent Care Centers.
  • Many Urgent Care Centers are open 7 days a week, and on weekends and evenings.
  • Without insurance, the average cost of an urgent care visit is $171.4  

Find an Urgent Care Center

Important! If you have an issue that threatens your life or health, never wait. Call 911 or go straight to the nearest hospital.


Convenience care centers and retail clinics

These are walk-in clinics with extended hours, where you can get basic care from a nurse practitioner or pharmacist. They can treat common illnesses like sinus infections, colds, flu, allergies, urinary tract infections or sore throats and give preventive vaccinations for the flu, shingles and more.

What to Expect:

  • As the name implies, these clinics are convenient. Some are housed inside retail stores and pharmacies.
  • Because the health problems seen here are minor, a typical visit generally takes just 15 to 20 minutes.


NOTE: If you do visit an urgent care or convenience care center, let your doctor know, so your medical records stay up to date.


3) Hospital Emergency Room or ER

Go to the ER if you feel your life is in danger or need major care right away.

Always choose the ER for medical emergencies, including:

  • chest pains
  • severe abdominal pain
  • trouble breathing
  • pain in the arm or jaw
  • coughing or throwing up blood
  • heavy bleeding
  • severe burns or deep wounds
  • head trauma
  • major broken bones
  • seizures or convulsions
  • suddenly not able to speak, see, walk or move
  • suddenly weak or drooping on one side of the face or body


    time and money at emergency care

    What to Expect:

    • You may wait less than 2 hours to see a doctor, nurse or assistant5
    • The typical visit is 2 hours and 35 minutes in NC6
    • Blue Cross NC claims data shows a typical ER visit is about $18007
    • Most insurance plans don't cover the cost of an ambulance ride to the ER, which can be hundreds of dollars