When to Visit an Urgent Care Center


Every day, many Americans get hurt or ill, and they are going to need professional medical attention. But not all injuries or conditions call for emergency care at a hospital; more often, a victim needs urgent care instead, and urgent care centers can be found all across the nation. When someone needs help, a nearby person can look up “urgent care near me” on a mobile device to find urgent care clinics in the area, and if the patient needs help at an odd time of day, the helper can look up “24 hr urgent care near me” or “24/7 urgent care clinics nearby.” Searching for “urgent care near me” can also be refined with a ZIP code, if the search is taking place in a large metro area, and some urgent care clinics actually double as emergency care centers. Some medical clinics today are hybrids, offering both urgent care and emergency care side by side. But what sets urgent and emergency care apart?

What Emergency Care is For

Emergency care is for the most serious and dire medical cases, and often, a life is at risk. Emergency clinics and a hospital’s ER are the right place for emergency care, and many of these places are open 24 hours a day. They will have doctors and physicians on hand who can stabilize a patient and get them out of danger, such as from life-threatening conditions or major injuries. For example, a life-threatening condition such as chest pain or difficulty breathing call for the ER, whereas urgent care centers don’t have the supplies on hand to treat such a patient. Something similar can be said for a heart attack or a stroke victim. A broken arm or leg also calls for emergency care, along with head wounds and eyeball wounds. Stab wounds and bullet wounds require emergency medical aid as well, and such injuries are often bleeding heavily. And what about abdominal pain cases? Most abdominal pain is actually harmless, but if that pain was sudden, severe, and/or long lasting, emergency care is the right call. After all, the pain’s underlying cause may be quite serious, such as cancer or internal bleeding.

But take note that emergency care services are not a universal place for treatment, as they are best reserved for serious medical cases. Visiting them is often expensive and time consuming, and this is not practical for minor medical cases that a walk in clinic can handle. Around 40-60% of ER cases could have been handled at an urgent care clinic, but only 3% of urgent care center patients need to be diverted to emergency services. But in cases where it’s not clear what level of care the patient needs, the patient can be taken to a hybrid medical clinic, as mentioned earlier. Such clinics can be sought out specifically, or they might come up in a search for either urgent or emergency care nearby.

Finding Urgent Care

Meanwhile, urgent care centers can offer medical aid for minor, non life-threatening wounds or illnesses, and they prove quite popular. In fact, over 2,500 urgent care clinics can be found across the United States today, and this industry is young but rapidly growing. Such clinics tend to be small and independent medical sites, and they sometimes form small networks with one another. When a person searches for “urgent care near me,” they may find many urgent care centers built into strip malls, but other urgent care sites can be found inside retailers such as Walgreen’s or Target. Some are even found in hospitals, and they offer separate care and staff from the hospital itself.

Patients often visit urgent care centers to get prescription drug refills, as most urgent care sites have a pharmacy built into them (especially retail clinics). During influenza season, patients visit these clinics for medicinal relief from the common cold and flu, and patients may get lotion and ointment for bad cases of skin rashes and sunburn as well. The nurse practitioners and physicians on staff can also provide stitches and bandages for shallow cuts and wounds. Four in five urgent care sites provide treatment for bone fractures as well, and nearly all walk in clinics can also treat wrist and ankle sprains.

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