The ER is too far

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jovan Banks
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
An emergency can happen anytime, to anyone, anywhere, but not all emergencies require an Emergency Room (ER) visit. Some can be treated at a local urgent care center (UCC).

UCCs treat acute illnesses and injuries that may not be serious enough for a visit to an ER. The centers treat a wide range of conditions including: infections, allergies, skin conditions, flu, minor injuries and wounds, strep throat, and sporting injuries.

If you have unexpected symptoms that don’t require an ER visit and you can’t see your doctor right away, an urgent care clinic may be your best bet for getting an early diagnosis and saving the Air Force money.

“The average cost of an emergency room visit is $501, while the average cost of an urgent care visit is $95,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Dianne Stroble, the chief nurse assigned to the 509th Medical Group (MDG). “The 509th MDG team wants to be your first choice and we partner with our patients to ensure your healthcare concerns are addressed.”

There are about 7,100 full-service UCCs in the U.S. with four in the Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, area. The local facilities Whiteman uses are family practice facilities that are contracted with Tricare to accept patients on a walk-in basis. Other options for urgent care can be found at

“Emergency care is needed in the case of a medical emergency,” said Stroble. “Medical emergencies are the sudden and unexpected onset of a medical condition that is threatening to life, limb, or eyesight, requires immediate medical treatment or manifests painful symptoms that requires immediate response to alleviate suffering.”

UCC nurse practitioners share many of the same responsibilities as doctors, but will not treat everything that can be treated at the ER.

“Tricare PRIME dependents are pre-authorized two UCC visits without a referral,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Christine Kress, the 509th Medical Group commander. “Active duty members are not pre-authorized visits and are required to call the Nurse Advice Line for prior authorization. All active duty who report to the ER, are required to contact their PCM the next duty day.”

Here are some examples of when to visit an emergency room instead of urgent care facilities:
* Persistent chest pain, especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as radiation to arm/jaw, sweating, vomiting or shortness of breath
* Difficulty breathing
* Altered mental status or confusion, including suicidal thoughts
* Deep cuts requiring stitches especially on the face, or a large open wound that won’t stop bleeding
* Head or eye injuries
* Seizures without a previous diagnosis of epilepsy

“Healthcare issues often arise after duty hours and the local ER and UCCs provide a great service to our patients,” said Kress. “I need all patients with non-emergent care needs to contact the Nurse Advice Line prior to reporting to an UCC or ER to ensure we match the right level of care to your symptoms. It is my priority to ensure our patients have access to the best available care, but during duty hours, I want you to choose us.”

Urgent care is not a substitute for emergency care. In general, an emergency should be treated as such.

All Airmen and their families should know their benefits when faced with making a visit to the ER or urgent care.

For more information about finding an Urgent Care facility that accepts the type of Tricare you have, call United Healthcare at 1-877-988-WEST (9378).

During clinic hours, for non-emergent issues, please contact the 509th MDG at 660-687-2188 or send a message to your assigned provider team through MiCare. After hours, please contact the Nurse Advice Line (NAL) at 1-800-874-2274.