Most people have experienced a medical issue, either an illness or injury, that needs treatment before they can get to the primary care doctor’s office got help. There is a medical issue at hand but is it an emergency? For years, when people had a problem late at night or on the weekend, they had only one option was the emergency room at the local hospital. The problem is that there is a difference between urgent and emergency treatment.
What is the difference between urgent and emergency care?
There are times when the emergency room is the place to go for an illness or injury. Any problem that can be life-threatening or that may result in admission to the hospital needs to be dealt with in a hospital. There are a lot of other problems that need care right away but are not considered to be emergencies. It has been estimated that nearly 25,000 Americans sprain one of their ankles every day but these are not emergency rooms. They are painful and annoying but these can be treated in another setting such as the primary care clinic or an urgent care center.
What is an urgent care center? Where did they come from?
In the 1980s, doctors working in emergency rooms saw a problem that they thought they could solve. They saw people using the emergency rooms around the nation for reasons that were not medical emergencies. They treated people with colds, sprains and strains, and other issues that would never end up with a stay in the hospital. In fact, research done by Milliman has shown that somewhere between 45% and 55% of visits to emergency departments are for things that could be treated in a less expensive and less stressful way. These are people who did not need to visit the emergency room.
These doctors understood that people need access to health care that is more convenient and will be there during hours when hospitals were the only options. They developed the idea of the urgent care center.
What Does Urgent Care Treat?
Urgent care centers can do a number of things that emergency rooms can do. They can:
- Diagnose and treat bone fractures: Nearly 80% of all urgent care facilities have x-ray machines. When you think about the difference between urgent and emergency care, the severity of a broken bone is a good example. A simple fracture may be looked at in an urgent care center whereas a compound fracture needs treatment in a hospital.
- Small wounds and cuts: People who have a cut that needs stitches can get these taken care of at the urgent care center.
- Upper respiratory infections: Every year, people in the United States have to deal with about one billion colds. Kids can get, on average, between six and ten colds every year. Ear infections have an impact on a lot of kids. Before they reach the age of three, nearly 84% of children will have had at least one ear infection. These can be treated at a walk-in clinic.
What is the experience like going to an urgent care center?
- It takes less time. When you go to an emergency room, you are treated in the order you got there but also by how serious your problem is. If you are there because you suffered a stroke or heart attack, you will be seen immediately. If you are there because you have thrown your back out, it can take a long, long time. By contrast, the average patient at an urgent care center is seen by a medical professional (not the triage person but someone who can diagnose their problem) within 15 minutes. For most people, they are in and out in under an hour.
- It is cheaper. One HUGE difference between urgent and emergency care is the cost. Going to the emergency room is the way to get the most expensive medical care in the nation. Everything is cheaper at an urgent care clinic, but people should check with their insurance carrier.
When people need health care sooner than later but are not suffering from a true emergency, finding an urgent care center can make all the difference in their experience.