Urgent care centers are an indispensable part of the health care system that provides outpatient care to patients with minor medical conditions. They differ from primary care units or family physicians in the sense that patients do not need an appointment before receiving care. Some centers may offer appointment scheduling as an additional service for patients, but all urgent care centers offer medical care on a walk-in basis. In addition, they offer extended hours beyond just the normal 9 to 5 business day meaning they are open later and usually on weekends as well. Urgent care centers are increasingly appealing to more people as a means of avoiding waiting for care in emergency departments or for an appointment at the doctor’s office.
Facts About Urgent Care Centers
Generally speaking, urgent care centers are independent from hospitals. While Emergency Rooms located within hospitals are equipped to treat major, life-threatening circumstances such as strokes and heart attacks, urgent care centers provide medical care for minor emergencies and acute illnesses, such as sprains, fractures and upper respiratory infections. As a general rule, patients can expect to receive medical treatment for significantly less than the cost of an equivalent trip to the ER. Therefore, urgent care centers are considered to provide a cost-effective alternative. In fact, many insurance companies urge members to use urgent care centers rather than ERs at times when their doctors’ offices are closed. Urgent care centers also serve as a filter to free ERs from being overburdened with non-emergent patients, thereby allowing the required focus and attention to be paid to patients who are in life or death situations.
With over 8,000 centers serving the nation, the concept of urgent care has seen significant growth since it first appeared in the mid-seventies. While first conceptualized and started by emergency physicians, urgent care centers today boast of physicians of various specialties, physician assistants, nurses, nurse practitioners and medical assistants. An associated called the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) has even been formed and has developed norms and operational standards for urgent care centers across the country. This has helped set a nationally uniform industry standard of healthcare for urgent care practitioners, ensuring quality levels of care.
But what should you look for in the actual urgent care facilities themselves when choosing where to go for care? Thanks to the UCAOA, standards are in place to make sure patients see quality doctors and receive quality care. Therefore, the actual facilities themselves can make a large difference in a patient’s overall experience. Here are a few factors you should evaluate when choosing an urgent care clinic:
• Building accessibility. Clinics that are on street level are easier to access, but if they are on higher floors, they should at least have an elevator big enough to fit stretchers, paramedics and family.
• The lobby should be welcoming and equipped with enough entertainment to help pass the wait. Many lobbies offer magazines or TV’s to watch, and some even have children play areas to help occupy younger patients.
• Often overlooked, restrooms can be quite important during a visit. Make sure that the clinic has a handicapped restroom available, especially when samples for lab tests may be necessary.
• The urgent care center must have adequate equipment and facilities to deal with fires. For urgent care centers located above the first floor, sprinkler systems must be present. Always check to see if the clinic has an evacuation plan posted.
• For safe radiography, it is essential to have the appropriate safeguards to prevent exposure to excessive radiation. This may include special, lead treated walls and lead lined protective coverings for patients.
ER Or Urgent Care Center
It is not very difficult to decide whether the condition that requires the treatment should be dealt with at an ER or an urgent care center. For example, Allergies, Asthma, Bronchitis, Influenza, Minor Injuries, Sinus, Inflammations and Sport injuries are certainly not life threatening, yet that patient will likely be in significant pain if they do not receive immediate attention. On the other hand, emergency rooms are essential for serious, life threatening conditions such as heart attacks, acute respiratory problems, brain injury, and compound fractures or even for victims of severe accidents. In these cases, a patient requires immediate specialized medical attention. Knowing the difference of when to visit an ER and an urgent care clinic will ensure you receive the appropriate level of care, and knowing what features to look for in an urgent care clinic will make sure the visit is be a positive one.