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What are Urgent Care Clinics?

Urgent care clinics offer an alternative to the emergency room with the added bonus of being less expensive and usually having less waiting time.  They started in the 90s because many people were upset they could not visit their primary physician during the weekend or at night.  ER’s can do everything that an urgent care center can, but the reverse is not true.  There are specific symptoms and treatments that should only be treated at the ER.  A general rule of thumb is if it is non-life threatening, but still can’t wait till the next day or for the primary physician, urgent care is a good option.

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Common Urgent Care Conditions

Common reasons people seek treatment at an urgent care facility include injuries such as:

Outside of injury, non-life threatening illnesses may also bring someone to the urgent care; these include:

For seniors, additional conditions commonly trigger a visit to the urgent care including back pain, abdominal pain, early-stage pressure ulcers (bedsores), hemorrhoids, and heartburn. In addition to treating your acute injury or illness, urgent care providers will also recommend a follow-up timeline for you and your doctor as well as ways to prevent similar complications in the future, i.e. heating pads for back pain, or  alternating air pressure mattresses for bedsores.

If a medical professional at an urgent care gauges that your injury or illness is so severe it warrants a trip to the hospital instead, they will let you know and even arrange an emergency transport to get you the most immediate help.

Urgent Care Considerations

If you or your loved one are in need of quick medical care, you’ll want to keep a handful of considerations in mind when choosing where to go. For illnesses like a cold or a sore throat, visiting your primary care physician during business hours (or at after-hours clinics) should be a priority. Not only does this keep your care management under the umbrella of a healthcare provider with existing medical history on you, but it is typically more practical when it comes to insurance coverage.

If you cannot get an appointment soon enough with your doctor, consider going to the urgent care but remember that insurance co-pays will vary from your regular doctor. If you don’t have insurance, payment will typically be required in full at the time of your visit. An urgent care visit may range anywhere from $75 to $150 dollars (before tests and medication). Don’t mistake an urgent care clinic for a free-standing ER either; while they oftentimes look the same, a free-standing ER operates like a hospital ER with similar sky-high costs. ER’s are more likely to accept payment plans, however, than urgent care clinics.

Your best bet when figuring out where to seek medical evaluation from an urgent care is look online to see which is closest to you, what their hours are (not all urgent care clinics are 24/7), if they accept your medical insurance, and if they have the equipment to handle your injury/illness. For example, if you are worried you broke a toe or finger, you may want to call ahead and ask if they have an x-ray machine.

A visit to the urgent care is not appropriate if you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pains, or a deep cut with profuse bleeding. While ER’s are going to be more expensive, they also have more equipment and skilled professionals on hand to address an acute injury or illness as efficiently as possible.

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