Unfortunately, we can’t decide when it’s convenient to get sick or have an injury. Our health waits for no one’s schedule. But if you need medical care urgently and can’t get to your doctor — and it’s not serious enough for the emergency room — what are you supposed to do? The answer lies with urgent care centers. Urgent care locations have sprung up all across the country and are a middle ground between scheduling an appointment with your doctor and going to the emergency room for a non-emergency situation. There are over 7,000 urgent care locations in the United States and more are sure to open in the coming years. Whether you’re part of the one billion colds every year or have a bad sprain, urgent care is the place to go.
The Growing Market for Urgent Care
Around three million patients go to an urgent care center every week, says the Urgent Care Association of America, and there are around 20,000 physicians who are working in urgent care medicine right now. As America’s average age increases, so too are our healthcare needs, and the system is starting to strain. Middle of the road health services like walk in clinics and urgent care locations can help pick up some of that strain.
Urgent care is especially good because you’re usually seen by an on-site physician and receive high quality care for medical situations that can’t wait. A urinary tract infection, a bad flu or cold, or a sprain or mild break can all be handled at urgent care, rather than having to wait to see your doctor or spend too much time (and money) in the emergency room.
Why You Should Get Friendly With Your Local Urgent Care
There’s an excellent chance that there’s an urgent care location near you, if not a few. And, like mentioned above, it’s a good middle-of-the-road option if it’s a serious enough illness or injury that you don’t want to wait to schedule a doctor’s appointment (or there’s a long wait time to see your doctor) but it’s not quite serious enough to head to the emergency room.
Urgent care centers also usually have extended hours and may even be open on weekends or select holidays, depending on the location. But around 85% of urgent care centers are open every day and may open earlier or stay open later, to accommodate people with different work schedules.
Urgent care centers also take a variety of health insurances as well, and are automatically much less expensive than an emergency room visit, so you’re saving money that way.
And, when time is of the essence, urgent care is the place to be. Wait times are much shorter than at an emergency room (or even many doctor’s offices) — most patients say that they wait under an hour to be called in.
Urgent care centers can also be handy if you’re in an unfamiliar area and need medical attention — say, for example, you’re on vacation and your kid has an allergic reaction to something.
When to Go to Urgent Care Versus the Emergency Room
You should always go to the emergency room if it’s a life-threatening situation — heart attack, stroke, severe blood loss, concussions, etc.
Urgent care is for situations that are urgent, but not life threatening. You probably don’t want to wait to seek treatment for a broken arm, but you likely don’t need to be rushed to the emergency room to be treated. Too many people often use the emergency room as just after hours medical care, so remember that urgent care is a good option too.
And if you’ve been tracking symptoms for a few days — or you already know what the diagnosis is and just need treatment — and can’t get a same-day appointment with your primary care physician, then it’s probably time to check out urgent care.
Check out nearby urgent care locations so you know where to go should you need their services. Many will have hours of operation and insurance requirements on websites as well, so you can prepare ahead of time.