If you live in the United States and don’t happen to have your head thoroughly planted in the sand, you’ve probably noticed the walk in clinics that have popped up on every street corner. In fact, urgent care walk in clinics are growing by the hundreds every years, as patients realize the convenience and importance of them.
If you aren’t familiar with the function of urgent care walk in clinics, we’ve put together a quick cheat sheet below, so you’d know what to expect if you went to one:
- Urgent care walk in clinics are NOT just for urgent health needs.
The name “urgent care” might lead you to believe that it is meant for urgent health needs. While it’s true, urgent care clinics are equipped to handle healthcare needs that require treatment in 24 hours or less, they are actually suitable for many other healthcare needs. In addition to urgent healthcare needs, you can seek care at an urgent care if you need lab work done, such as a drug test or STD test, or if you just can’t get in to your doctor in an appropriate time frame. In fact, many urgent care facilities have hours at night and weekends, and some are even open 24 hours, just to meet the medical needs of people who can’t take off work to go to the doctor’s.
- Urgent care does NOT replace your regular doctor.
So you might be thinking, if urgent care isn’t just for urgent needs, you can cancel your regular doctor and just get care from urgent care, right? Not exactly. Both your regular family physician and your neighborhood urgent care play a unique roll in your community medical infrastructure that do not replace each other. If your medical need requires ongoing monitoring and follow-up care, you should visit your regular doctor for it. If your medical need requires a referral to a specialist, you should get care with your regular doctor. In fact, if you go to urgent care for one of these medical needs, the medical provider who meets with you will provide care to treat your immediate symptoms, and recommend that you follow up with your doctor to create a long-term healthcare plan.
- Urgent care DOES provide care that your regular doctor does not.
While your doctor provides some treatment that urgent care does not, likewise your urgent care provides some medical treatment that your regular doctor is not equipped to provide. For example, if you need x-rays or fracture care, your doctor will not be able to help you. However, urgent care most likely is equipped to provide treatment (you can always call ahead and verify if you’re unsure). Many urgent care facilities are also equipped to administer intravenous fluids and breathing treatments, provide lab services, and even sometimes fill prescriptions onsite. These are services that most regular doctors cannot provide.
- Urgent care is NOT the same as emergency room.
While urgent care can be considered an escalation from the regular doctors, since they can usually provide care faster and administer treatments your doctor isn’t equipped to provide, they do not take the place of the emergency room. If the medical need you are seeking care for is life threatening, you should not waste any time getting to the emergency room. Every minute counts when you’re dealing with a life-threatening emergency.
- And emergency room is NOT the same as urgent care.
That being said, you shouldn’t assume that the emergency room is best equipped to treat your medical need in every circumstance. There are many MANY situations where urgent care is more appropriate than emergency room. In fact, since the emergency room is meant for life threatening situations, if you go to the ER for medical needs that are not life threatening, you are tying up space and resources that could be needed to save a life.
If your medical need isn’t life threatening, you are better off seeking care at urgent care. Urgent care is usually cheaper than ER since you aren’t subject to all the hefty hospital surcharges. You’ll also likely get care faster (in most cases you’ll be seen in less than 15 minutes) at urgent care. In many cases, you’ll get the care you need, for less money and faster, at urgent care.