Urgent care clinics have been popping up all over the country in recent years as a more affordable and convenient alternative to the ER. But what is urgent care, and when should you use it? Urgent care is a medical facility that provides walk-in care for patients with illnesses or injuries that are not life-threatening. Urgent care centers are typically open seven days a week and offer extended hours, making them a convenient option for patients who need medical attention outside of traditional doctor’s office hours. Urgent care is not meant to replace your regular doctor but can be a useful option when you need medical care but your regular doctor is not available. For example, if you have the flu and your doctor’s office is closed, you can go to an urgent care center such as AFC for treatment.
When Should You Use Urgent Care?
There are a few different scenarios when you might want to consider using an urgent care center instead of the ER. First, if you have a non-life-threatening illness or injury that needs immediate attention but is not serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER, urgent care can be a good option. For example, if you have a bad cold or the flu, an ear infection, minor cuts or burns, or just need a sports physical, urgent care would likely be appropriate. Urgent care centers can also be a good option if you have had an accident and need x-rays or stitches but do not have any broken bones.
Another time when urgent care can be useful is when you have a chronic condition that suddenly flares up and you need to be seen by a doctor right away but your regular doctor is not available. For example, if you have asthma and have an asthma attack, you can go to urgent care rather than the ER.
Generally speaking, if your condition is not life-threatening and you can wait until your regular doctor is available, you should opt for urgent care over the ER. The ER is meant for more serious conditions that require immediate medical attention, such as heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory distress. If you are unsure whether your condition warrants a trip to the ER or urgent care, you can always call ahead to the facility to speak with a nurse who can help assess your symptoms.
How Much Does Urgent Care Cost?
The cost of urgent care will vary depending on your insurance coverage and your services. In general, urgent care is less expensive than the ER, as ER visits often result in higher co-pays or deductibles. If you have insurance, your insurance company should have a list of in-network urgent care providers; going to an in-network provider will likely cost you less than going to an out-of-network provider.
Some urgent care centers also offer self-pay options for patients without insurance. For example, many walk-in clinics offer a set price for common services such as x-rays or stitches. If you are paying out-of-pocket, be sure to ask about pricing upfront so there are no surprises.
Are Urgent Care Centers Affiliated With Hospitals?
Some urgent care centers are affiliated with hospitals while others are not. Urgent care centers that are affiliated with hospitals may be able to offer more services than those that are not, but this will vary from facility to facility. If you need a specific service, such as x-rays or stitches, you should call ahead to the urgent care center to see if they offer that service before going in.
How Should You Choose An Urgent Care Center?
Insurance-Medical costs can add up quickly, so if you have insurance, you’ll want to make sure the urgent care center you choose is in your insurance network. This will help keep your costs down.
Location-You’ll also want to consider the location of the urgent care center. If you are sick or injured, the last thing you want to do is drive a long distance for medical attention. Choose an urgent care center that is conveniently located near you.
Services offered-As mentioned above, not all urgent care centers offer the same services. If you need a specific service, such as x-rays or stitches, be sure to call ahead to make sure the urgent care center can accommodate your needs.
Hours of operation-Urgent care centers are not open 24/7 like hospitals, so you’ll need to make sure the center you choose is open when you need it. Most urgent care centers are open during regular business hours, but some offer extended hours or weekends.
Urgent care can be a convenient and cost-effective option for many medical needs. Keep the above factors in mind when choosing an urgent care center to ensure you find one that meets your needs.