A report published by the World Journal of Emergency Medicine estimates that up to one-third of all emergency care cases in the U.S. are nonurgent in nature. Attributed to convenience of on-demand treatment, lack of access to primary or urgent care, and patients’ misconception of urgency, this misuse has impacted the quality and cost of emergency care for all people. Based on a research conducted by the New England Healthcare Institute, $38 billion could be saved annually if patients are better informed about health care options. The huge expenses incurred through misuse of services can also have an impact on your company’s resources. As an employer, it is essential for you to educate your employees about where to seek treatment if they are confronted with an unexpected health condition or injury.

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers provide ambulatory care to patients whose injuries or illnesses are not life-threatening but who need immediate attention, according to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine. Such centers function on a no-appointment basis and are often open beyond office hours, even on weekends. Most centers conduct diagnostic tests and dispense prescriptions, while others offer basic laboratory and X-ray services. These centers also provide treatment to patients with regular medical conditions when primary care is unavailable.

The following are examples of care that one can receive through an Urgent Care facility: sprains, animal bites, X-rays, stitches, mild asthma, minor headaches, back pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, minor allergic reactions, coughs, sore throat, bumps, cuts, scrapes, rashes, minor burns, minor fevers, colds, ear or sinus pain, eye swelling, irritation, redness or pain and vaccinations

Prompt medical delivery and lower medical costs make urgent care an attractive option. The quick turnaround in care is due to the fact that treatment is only reserved for non-life-threatening conditions. Since such centers do not have extensive 24-hour facilities and have the authority to turn away uninsured patients, their overhead costs are comparatively low, according to WDBJ7. Some larger employers even have on-site urgent care centers specifically for their employees.

Emergency Care

Usually housed in hospitals and medical centers, emergency care centers have special medical equipment to treat life-threatening conditions. They also provide extensive diagnostic test facilities by highly qualified physicians that are available 24/7. Hospitals normally impose higher charges because it costs more to operate a huge and extensively equipped facility that employs staff around the clock. Some examples of reasons to visit an ER includes, but is not limited to: any life-threatening or disabling condition, severe shortness of breath, a cut or wound that won’t stop bleeding, sudden or unexplained loss of consciousness, high fever with stiff neck, mental confusion or difficulty breathing, major injuries, chest pain, numbness in the face, arm or leg, difficulty speaking, coughing up or vomiting blood and broken bones.

Employees should consider two factors to help them decide which medical facility to approach: the urgency of treatment and the condition or illness.

Educating employees about both types of facilities and their services will help them make cost-effective and practical health care decisions. Undeniably, equipping employees with the right information will benefit you and your employees. If you have a self-funded plan, costs saved by eliminating ER misuse can be rolled over to the following year. If your plan has an HRA or HSA, your employees may see savings in these funds as their out-of-pocket costs are reduced.

Tapping into technology is one way that you can educate your employees about health choices. This includes the use of mobile apps, video, e-newsletters and e-posters to disseminate information.

Knowing where to go for the right treatment when the need arises will save your employees both time and money. If in doubt, employees can visit the urgent care facilities, or their websites, in advance to find out about the kind of medical treatments they offer.

Emmie Sahlan has a graduate degree in English and has been writing professionally for the past five years. Her niche areas are insurance, credit cards, personal finance and education.