The day before I was scheduled to leave for Morocco with the Peace Corps, I got bit by a deer tick. I live on Long Island, which has the highest Lyme’s Disease rates in the world, and so I couldn’t afford to take any chances. I knew I needed to have the tick removed by a professional and take the prophylactic doxycycline, but my family practice doctor was always booked at least a few days in advance, which I didn’t have time for. Also, this wasn’t exactly an emergency, and anyway I didn’t have the time to waste an entire day in the ER waiting room.
Really, I should thank that darned tick, because it led me to frantically Google until I discovered a local urgent care center. Up until that point, I had never heard of an urgent care center, and didn’t realize there was a fast solution in between my regular doctor and a full blown ER visit. Best of all, the urgent care center I found was a walk-in clinic, meaning I didn’t need an appointment. I seriously just drove there, put my name on a list, and was seen within a couple of hours by a licensed physician. They took my insurance too, but even if they hadn’t, I did a quick comparison of out-of-pocket urgent care cost with ER costs and discovered that the urgent care center was $300 cheaper for most things on average. I was able to take care of the tick situation and make my flight the next day no problem.
I have to admit, I had my reservations about going, even considering my urgent situation. After all, I’ve been trained by my culture to believe that bigger is better and more legitimate, and so I’ve always harbored the prejudice that an urgent care unit is less official and provides lower quality care. This is simply not the case. For one thing, they see you faster than an emergency room, with the average urgent care center wait time being less than 20 minutes. This can greatly improve the quality if, like me, time was your biggest concern. Furthermore, 95% of these centers have licensed doctors on their staff. Not residents or students like you might find at a hospital — doctors.
Finally, the more affordable pricing doesn’t hint at bad quality. It’s simply a function of what an urgent care center does. For sure, these are not the places to go if you need open heart surgery or something. But because they only have to treat routine, non-invasive issues, they are able to keep leaner inventory and staff and thus cut operations cost. This savings gets passed on to you as the consumer who doesn’t have a life-threatening medical condition but nonetheless needs to be seen.
I hope I’ve divested you of any reservations or superstitions you might have about urgent care centers, because without one, I would have had a whole host of other logistical problems to deal with that had nothing to do with the tick.