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Urgent care vs ER vs walk-in clinic: Know where to go for the care you need

Written by Aetna By Aetna

When you need to see a health care provider right away, you need to make a choice: do you go to the emergency room, urgent care center or a walk-in clinic? The right decision can save you time and money. But how do you decide which option is best for you? Keep reading or watch this short video to learn more.


The difference between walk-in clinics, urgent care and the ER

The most important thing to consider is the type of treatment you may need. The ER is best equipped to see people with unexpected, intense and immediate symptoms or injuries, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or severe bleeding. But many health problems can be addressed in other settings. In fact, as many as one in four ER visits could be handled at an urgent care center1. Urgent care can treat issues like sprains, fractures and cuts that require stitches. And you’re more likely to be treated faster at urgent care ― 90% of patients are out in less than an hour2.

But urgent care isn’t the only option when you’re seeking immediate treatment. For issues like a sore throat, the flu or allergies, a walk-in clinic is usually a good choice. Most neighborhood walk-in clinics are open seven days a week and are typically staffed by certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants. So they can have you feeling better in no time. 

If you still aren’t sure where to go, there are resources that can help. Call our toll-free 24/7 Nurse Line at 1-800-556-1555 (TDD/TTY: 711) to get more information about where you can seek treatment. 

In case of emergency, call 911 or your local emergency hotline or go directly to an emergency care facility. This message is for informational purposes only, is not medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Information is believed to be accurate as of the production date; however, it is subject to change. For more information about Aetna plans, refer to

1 Weinick, Robin M et al. Health Aff (Millwood). 2010 September; 29(9): 1630-1636. Doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0748. Available at: Accessed: January 23, 2019.

2 Urgent Care Association. 2017 Benchmarking Report Summary, Headlines on Growth. 2017. Available at: Accessed: January 23, 2019


Aetna and MinuteClinic, LLC (which either operates or provides certain management support services to MinuteClinic-branded walk-in clinics) are part of the CVS Health family of companies.

Aetna Medicare is a PDP, HMO, PPO plan with a Medicare contract. Our SNPs also have contracts with State Medicaid programs. Enrollment in our plans depends on contract renewal. See Evidence of Coverage for a complete description of plan benefits, exclusions, limitations and conditions of coverage. Plan features and availability may vary by service area.