In the past 40 years, urgent care (UCs) clinics have grown rapidly as an alternative resource for persons in need of ambulatory care. With more accommodating hours than most primary care physicians and more affordable rates than emergency room trips, these clinics offer an intermediary to those seeking expedient medical attention for less severe illnesses or injuries. The following sections lay out what services you will find at these clinics and how those services differ from an emergency room, as well as what you can expect to experience while visiting.
Perhaps its defining characteristic, an urgent care facility provides treatment on a walk-in basis. No prior appointment is necessary in order to request attention. However, you can call prior to arriving if you’d like. Although clinics do not generally offer 24-hour service, most keep extended hours of operation, opening early and closing late seven days a week.
Urgent care is best equipped to help remedy non-life-threatening ailments and minor traumas. The scope of available treatment options at a clinic can vary, but for a facility to be certified it must provide on-site diagnostic services. This includes, but is not limited to:
· Serial EKGs
· Blood work testing
· Intravenous procedures
Clinics will also give prescriptions, medication and stitch-up moderate lacerations.
ER vs. Urgent Care
The CDC estimates which across the country, about 40 percent of emergency room visits are for issues that could be better dealt with by urgent care clinics. The ER is a 24-hour hospital service available for immediate medical intervention in life-threatening emergencies. Using it for anything less is inappropriate for a couple of reasons.
First off, emergency rooms treat those with the most serious conditions first. Anyone visiting the ER for less urgent problems can expect a considerable wait. Various studies have estimated the average wait in an ER to be between 3-4 hours. For overcrowded city hospitals, waits will be even longer. On the other hand, UCs function on a first-come-first-serve basis with significantly reduced wait times.
Next, ER bills are not cheap, and if an insurer deems that a visit was a not an actual emergency, a person can end up paying almost entirely out of pocket. With urgent care clinics, many insurers provide coverage regardless of the problem, As well as patient co-pays can be as little as $20. But be sure and check your personal or family plan to make sure provisions for UC facilities are included.
What to Expect
In many ways, an appointment with a UC clinic is very similar to visiting your primary care physician. Waiting rooms are comfortable and checking-in is easy. When you are called, an attendant will escort you to a private area where your vitals are taken. Following this will be a doctor’s consultation and any subsequent treatment that may need to be administered. Fully trained nurses and doctors, specially trained in urgent care practices, are prepared to handle both adults and children. After medical care has been provided, you exchange insurance information with the clerical staff, settle billing for the co-pay, and can quickly be on your way.