Urgent care centers are walk-in clinics that focus on caring for people who need care right away and who are not having a life-threatening emergency.
When we need immediate health care, it’s seldom something we are prepared for. Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether an Urgent Care or an Emergency Room is the right place to go. Your choice could impact both your health and you financially.
♦ Urgent care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician. An urgent care is a place to go when your doctor’s office isn’t open and when you need treatment for minor accidents and illnesses.
An urgent care is for an illness, injury or condition serious enough that a reasonable person would seek care right away, but not so severe it requires emergency room care.
An urgent care provider will likely recommend that you follow up with your regular doctor.
♦ Urgent Care is not Emergency Care
Urgent care is not a substitute for emergency care. In general, an emergency condition is one that can permanently impair or endanger the life of an individual.
Life-threatening emergencies, such as a heart attack or a serious injury, requires emergency room care.
Urgent Care Clinic
Urgent care clinics and urgent care centers are a form of walk-in clinic. They are usually staffed by physicians, nurses and radiology technicians.
♦ Urgent care clinics treat issues that go beyond the scope of retail clinics, such as Minute Clinic and Little Clinic located in drugstores or grocery stores, but do not require emergency room care.
Urgent care clinics are setup to assist patients with a variety of medical problems that need treatment right away, but are not considered true emergencies.
Urgent care clinics can be a place to turn to on the days and hours that your primary care physician is not open or an appointment is not available.
When to Choose an Urgent Care
Illnesses and injuries treated at urgent care centers are not life threatening. Specific symptoms and conditions where you may consider going to an urgent care center include:
• Minor injuries such as sprains
• Moderate back problems
• Severe sore throat or cough
• A fever not higher than 104 degrees
• Mild to moderate asthma
• Bleeding/cuts -- not bleeding a lot but requiring stitches
• Diagnostic services, including X-rays and laboratory tests
• Eye irritation and redness
• Vomiting, diarrhea or dehydration
• Skin rashes and infections
What are the advantages of an urgent care clinic?
Cost is a primary advantage compared to visiting an emergency room. Most health insurance plans still have a copay for urgent care clinics. This it typically $50 - $100.
♦ Most individual health insurance plans now require a percentage (coinsurance) for emergency room visits after you first satisfy your annual deductible. This causes the cost for emergency room visits to be extremely high, especially for a family with a high deductible plan.
Another advantage of urgent care clinics is that you can visit on a walk-in basis, no appointment is needed.
Urgent care clinics have flexible hours. Many are open during the day and into the evening, as well as weekends. The wait times are much less than the emergency room.
Many of the urgent care clinics have x-ray and lab testing equipment. Some urgent care clinics will fill prescriptions, but most want your primary care physician to prescribe and monitor your medications.
What are the disadvantages of an urgent care clinic?
Urgent care clinics are not for life-threatening care. If it is a life-threatening health issue and you go the urgent care clinic it is likely that they will transfer you to the nearest emergency room.
• For the most part, the doctor at the urgent care clinic will not know your personal health history or medications you are taking.
This is changing as medical records and testing results are being stored electronically. The clinic may not yet be able to link to your records so you will need to be prepared to provide this information when you visit.
Not all cities and towns have urgent care clinics or urgent care centers, especially the more rural locations.
♦ Most urgent care clinics are privately owned, but some are associated with hospitals. It is important to check first before visiting to be sure your insurance will cover the visit.
Just because your network approved hospital’s name appears in the urgent care center’s name does not guarantee the clinic is in your network.
• It is critical that you determine if your insurance plan covers the place you plan to visit. This is sometimes difficult to determine when you have an emergency and hurrying to find help.
♦ It is best to plan ahead for this type of emergency by locating the closest urgent care clinics or centers that your health insurance plan covers. List their location and hours of operation, so that you can go quickly if you need to.
Services available at one urgent care clinic may not be available at another clinic. For example, one clinic may offer x-rays and blood tests on site while another urgent clinic may not.
♦ 24 hour urgent care clinics are very rare. Extended hours clinics are also difficult to find. If you can locate one in your area be sure to keep its address in an easy to find place.
Typically, urgent care clinics are open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm seven days a week with some clinics closing for national holidays.
So when you need help outside of their open hours you have no choice but to visit an emergency room.
Urgent care clinics are convenient and affordable.
An urgent care is a place to go when your doctor’s office isn’t open and when you need treatment for minor accidents and illnesses.
An urgent care will not replace your primary care physician. Your family doctor is responsible for your medical history and treatment of any chronic conditions.