Urgent care centers have grown in number over the last few decades. Local news source Community Impact recently reported that the number of urgent care centers in Houston is dramatically increasing. It’s a story that is familiar around the country. The growth is a clear sign that people want more health care options that are convenient rather than stressful.
If you’ve never visited an urgent care center before here are six things you need to know before you go.
They Are an Alternative to the ER in Many Situations
When your primary physician isn’t available and you need medical care, the natural reaction is to make a trip to the emergency room. A National Center for Health Statistics study found that 48% of ER patients that aren’t admitted to the hospital visited the ER because their doctor’s office wasn’t open.
Urgent care centers are equipped to handle many of the injuries and illnesses that are seen in an ER. During cold and flu season emergency rooms get flooded with patients that are sick but far from critical condition. They could have gone to an urgent care center instead and received the same treatment from highly qualified physicians.
Common injuries and illnesses that can be treated at an urgent care facility include:
- · Broken bones
- · Cuts that need stitches
- · Flu and severe colds
- · High fevers
- · Minor burns
- · Sprained ankles
- · Pulled muscles
- · Diarrhea and vomiting
Essentially any non-life threatening illness or injury can be treated by the doctors at an urgent care center.
They Are Much Less Expensive Than Emergency Rooms
It’s no secret that a trip to the ER is extremely expensive. However, many people don’t realize they could have saved a lot of money by going to an urgent care center instead. For example, PlushCare urgent care facilities only charge a $99 flat fee for your first visit and $69 for all other visits. There’s no flat fee at an emergency room.
A few years ago the financial experts at WiseBread compared the costs between an ER visit and urgent care treatment. All nine medical conditions that were examined cost much less to treat at an urgent care facility. The biggest difference was treating a sinus infection – $112 at urgent care compared to $617 at an ER.
You’ll Get Taken Care of Quicker
Other than the expensive medical bills, the biggest complaint about emergency rooms is the long wait. Your problem may seem like it needs immediate attention; however, once you get to the ER your condition isn’t treated like an emergency. If your injury or illness isn’t life threatening you’ll have to wait at the back of a very long line that could take hours.
Urgent care facilities are set up to expedite the treatment process. Because they don’t have to handle true emergency situations they are able to get patients in and out without having to wait long. You can even call ahead and see the doctor at a specific time.
You Can Walk in or Schedule an Appointment
With urgent care centers, you have a lot more flexibility. As noted above, unlike the emergency room you can schedule a time to come into an urgent care center. Or you can walk in without an appointment. The scheduling system is one more way urgent care facilities are able to reduce the patient wait time.
They Accept Health Insurance
The vast majority of urgent care facilities accept health insurance just like a hospital or doctor’s office. Many people choose to just pay the cost out of pocket because the fees are so low, but it’s always best to find a facility that accepts your policy.
Call ahead to ask what health insurance plans are accepted at the facility. Most of the time you’ll only be required to pay the visit copay if your health insurance is accepted.
They Are Staffed By Highly Qualified Physicians and Nurses
It’s true that urgent care centers don’t employ specialists or physicians that can perform a life-saving surgery. However, the doctors and nurses at urgent care facilities are highly trained medical professionals that are able to handle almost any non-life threatening injury or illness. They are the equivalent of general practitioners and can:
- · Make a diagnosis
- · Order lab tests
- · Provide treatments
- · Write prescriptions if needed
It’s important to do your research and find a local urgent care center with a good reputation. Most facilities have websites where you can read doctor bios and see their credentials before scheduling an appointment.