There may come a time when you find yourself needing urgent medical care, but your family practice doctor isn’t available. You may be tempted to head to the emergency room, but in many cases, you could visit an urgent care clinic or go to walk in clinics to receive treatment. Knowing when to seek out urgent care or when to go to the emergency room (or receive more specialized care) is important. For example, if someone is having a drug overdose — which account for over 5,000 ER visits a day — you’ll want to head straight to the emergency room. If someone is suffering from a bad poison ivy allergy or has strep throat, however, you can safely head to urgent care to get treated.
When Should I Use Urgent Care Versus the Emergency Room?
The main rule of thumb for using urgent care over the emergency room is whether or not the condition is life-threatening. Any signs or symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, for example, would warrant an immediate trip to the emergency room. Internal bleeding, concussions, badly broken bones, and severe wounds should also be seen in the emergency room.
For conditions that are uncomfortable and can’t wait for a doctor’s appointment to be scheduled, like various skin conditions, upper respiratory infections, bladder infections, lice, or sinus infections, urgent care is a good place to head to.
Obviously, for conditions that are more complex or drawn out such as drug or alcohol addiction, pain management, weight loss treatments, or depression and anxiety, you’ll want to seek out a specialist in that field. Neither the emergency room or urgent care are the right place to go unless a precipitating event has put someone’s life in danger.
Why is Urgent Care Such a Great Alternative?
If you need urgent medical care and can go to urgent care, do. Most urgent care clinics have extended morning and evening hours — some may even be open 24/7 — and have some type of weekend hours. It’s perfect for those ailments or accidents that crop up on the weekend or at an inconvenient time when your usual medical provider isn’t in the office.
Most urgent care facilities take a variety of insurance and a physician is usually on site at all times. Your urgent care doctor is highly qualified and you receive the same level of urgent medical care you would anywhere else, with reduced wait times and lower costs. You can also help reduce overcrowding in emergency rooms by taking non-life-threatening cases to urgent care centers.
Most urgent care centers are based on walk-in service, so you won’t need to schedule an appointment — perfect for urgent medical needs that come up suddenly. You also don’t need a referral from your primary care physician for treatment at urgent care and some centers offer online check-in for easier and faster care.
Some urgent care centers also offer vaccinations, physicals, and other routine procedures as an alternative to scheduling an appointment with your doctor or trying to juggle your schedule around to accommodate other vaccination center hours.
Where Can I Find an Urgent Care Center Near Me?
Depending on your area, there may be a variety of urgent care centers that are close to you, especially in more urban areas. Some may be affiliated with a hospital, while others are more independent, free-standing clinics. Most have websites these days, listing their hours of operation, services, and what types of insurance they take. And, many will store your medical information for future visits, so returning to them will be a breeze.
A quick search on the Internet should yield you the results you need, along with directions and contact information.
Urgent care can be an excellent alternative for your urgent medical care needs. Find the urgent care clinics in your area and consider heading their way instead of the emergency room.