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If you have strep throat or your child broke his arm while playing sports, you may consider rushing to the nearest emergency department. You are aware that they have long lines and the wait will take forever, but with the doctor’s office closed, you figure this is the next best place to go. However, unless you have a life-threatening condition or injury, you may want to rethink the ER visit and head to the nearest urgent care center instead. You will likely be in and out quickly and pay less overall than you would at the hospital. Let’s take a look at urgent care providers and learn how they are often a better choice than the emergency department.
Overview of Urgent Care
According to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, Urgent Care Medicine (UCM) is an immediate medical service that provides outpatient care for both acute and chronic illness and injury. While it doesn’t replace the need for a qualified primary care doctor, urgent care can be convenient in non-life threatening situations for those who need medical attention when their regular physician’s office is unavailable. It’s also an alternative to the prospect of waiting in an ER for hours on end.
Urgent Care Procedures and Limits
While doctors at an urgent care center are skilled in a wide range of specialties, they don’t normally care for in-patient cases, perform surgery or treat chronic or long-term illness. Urgent care doctors are similar in skillset to family practitioners in that they treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries for men, women and children. They can refer patients to further care, if needed.
According to the AAUCM, some urgent care doctors have training in Emergency Medicine (EM) on the lower end of the severity spectrum. This involves evaluation and treatment for simple lab tests that can be done in-house, such as pregnancy tests, urinalysis and rapid strep tests, as well as x-rays for broken bones. Anything more involved, such as a CT scan or MRI, are referred to hospital emergency rooms. Because the administrative procedures are less involved and the overall costs in office-based practices verses those in a hospital setting are lower, urgent care services are quicker and more affordable.
When to Go to an Urgent Care Center
When you’re on the fence about going to the ER or an urgent care center, keep in mind that life-threatening injuries and illness should warrant a visit to the ER. If you or your child suffers from fevers, sprains, strains, upper respiratory infections, lacerations, contusions, broken bones and back pain, forgo the ER and try the urgent care center instead, advises the Urgent Care Center of America. Urgent care centers can administer IV fluids and X-rays as well, with evaluations and treatment done by physicians, physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners and radiology technicians.
Benefits of Urgent Care
Convenience and affordability are the top two benefits of urgent care centers. They are usually open seven days a week with regular business hours that may extend into the evening for convenience. Wait times are much lower than that of ERs, with 69 percent of wait times being less than 20 minutes to see a physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, says the UCCA. Overall, there are about 9,000 urgent care centers in the United States today. The cost of an urgent care facility visit is about half of what is charged in emergency rooms, making this a more affordable option, as well.
While urgent care is not an option for life-threatening illness or on-going care, it can be a great alternative to long waits in the emergency department and costly ER bills.
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