We have all experienced this. A flu that strikes on Friday night. A knee we twisted on a Saturday morning run. We know we cannot wait until Monday morning to get medical care but really do not think we need an emergency room. Luckily there are other places we can receive medical care at night or on the weekend. Urgent care clinics are open all over the country for just these times. You may ask, “what is urgent care?” Quite simply, it is care we can get when we need it and right away.
When should I go to an urgent care center and when should I go to my primary care doctor?
Your primary care physician is a very key player in getting and keeping you healthy. This person should be up to date on all of your medical issues and problems. They should be completely familiar with your health history and know everything about the health care that you have received. If you think of your health care providers like a football team, your primary care physician is the quarterback. When you become ill or have an injury, the first place you should call is to your primary care physician.
So, what is urgent care? Urgent care clinics do not exist to replace the care that you receive with your primary care physician. The care you receive at an urgent care facility is meant to supplement the care you get from your primary care doctor. The medical staff at urgent care centers are there to treat urgent medical problems that cannot wait for an office visit with your primary care doctor. They do not handle true medical emergencies, those do need to be treated in an emergency room.
A good example of what can and should be treated in an urgent care clinic is a sprained ankle. This is one of the most common injuries in the United States. This is not a medical emergency but is painful enough to make you not want to wait to see a primary care physician. Most urgent care centers are open after 6:00 pm and on the weekend so you can get the medical treatment you need when you need it.
What are the medical conditions that be treated at all urgent care centers? When you think about “what is urgent care” you may not know what kinds of conditions can be treated at these urgent medical care centers. Here are a few:
- Muscle sprains and strains and small fractures. Most urgent care centers have x-ray machines so they can look at your injury and let you know if you have any broken bones or if the problem is a strain or sprain.
- Persistent cough, colds and the flu or a severe sore throat.
- Stomach problems such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If you are dehydrated because of a stomach problem, you can get intravenous fluids at many centers. About 70% of urgent care centers offer this service for people.
- Mild to moderate back pain.
- Eye irritation.
- Small cuts.
- Urinary tract infections.
- Skin irritation and rashes.
Basically, any condition that cannot wait but would not result in an admission to a hospital can be treated in an urgent care center.
What is urgent care? There is a list of criteria that must be met in order for a center to classify itself as an urgent care center. The two associations that govern these centers, Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) and the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine (AAUCM), list the following:
- The clinic needs to see walk-in patients during the weekday (normal business hours).
- The center needs to treat a wide array of sicknesses and injuries.
- The clinic staff need to be able to perform minor procedures.
- There needs to be a licensed doctor serving as the medical director.
- They need to stay open seven days each week.
- They need to have certain equipment such as x-ray technology and phlebotomy.
- The clinic needs to have more than one exam room.
- In an ideal world, when you become ill or injured you would be able to get in right away to see your primary care doctor. Unfortunately, that is not always an option. When you or a family member is too sick or hurt to wait there are urgent care centers.