Up to 27% of ER visits could have been handled at an urgent care center instead. Urgent care centers have been increasing in number since the 1990s. They were designed to meet the needs of people who didn’t have access to their primary care doctor on weekends and at night. They’re like a middle ground between a primary care physician and the emergency room.
Visiting an urgent care center doesn’t require an appointment since the purpose is mainly to treat unexpected injuries and illnesses. Anytime you need immediate attention for a non-life threatening illness or injury, an urgent care facility is recommended.
When assessing urgent care San Francisco is a great example of how these centers can improve overall healthcare in an area. They’ve helped ease the burden of busy emergency rooms in the metro and proven to be a viable source of alternative care. A few years ago the city even invested time and energy into creating the San Francisco Health Network (SFHN), which helps people utilize urgent care services.
Urgent care services are popular because they are less expensive in most cases, especially if you don’t have adequate health insurance. Many urgent care centers are also very transparent about their fees. Unlike an ER visit, where the cost isn’t clear until you get the bill, urgent care facilities will post their standard fees for various treatments. Compared to the ER, urgent care centers offer more budget-friendly health care services.
The savings that come from using urgent care centers also affect the public in general. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that if ERs were used less for non-life threatening conditions it would save $18 billion annually.
More Convenient Care
Emergency rooms are often packed, which means it takes longer to see and process patients. It’s not uncommon to have to wait for hours before receiving treatment for a non-life threatening condition. Urgent care centers are typically much quicker to get patients in to see a doctor. The Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) issued a report about respondents who noted that urgent care facilities provided “convenient access to care”.
There are two exceptions.
The needs of children are different than adults. Less severe illnesses and injuries may still need to be treated at the ER if the child is under 12-years-old. Also, anytime chest pain or symptoms of a heart attack are present you should go directly to the emergency room.
Conditions That Can Be Handled by an Urgent Care Center
In recent years the number of urgent care centers in the U.S. has increased significantly. More communities are recognizing the benefits of making this additional health care resource available.
Essentially, if your condition isn’t life threatening, an urgent care center will most likely be able to treat you. Some of the most common reasons people visit an urgent care center include:
Minor Allergic Reaction
Minor Broken Bones
Minor Eye Injuries
If you need to visit an urgent care center, make sure to have your health insurance card with you. Urgent care centers will usually list their contracted health care providers on their website. Your insurance company’s website can supply you with information on what kind of coverage is provided.
You’ll also need to inform the urgent care facility of your current and past medical conditions. They’ll probably also ask where you typically receive treatment and if you have a primary care physician. If you can have this information on hand it will make the processing go very quick.
Even if you aren’t currently experiencing an illness or injury, it’s a good idea to research urgent care centers in your area. Make a note of where they are located, which insurance companies they work with and the hours the facility is open. Most centers are open until 9pm or later. Find several that fit your needs and add the contact information to your speed dial.