If you are like most people, you have experienced an illness or injury either at night after your doctor’s office has closed or on the weekend when it is never open. Whether you twisted your knee on the tennis court or have developed a fever late at night, there are times when you need medical help right away. Until recently, your only option would have been a long and expensive trip to the emergency room. Luckily, urgent care centers have opened all over the country, creating new options for sick and injured Americans.
Most of the first walk in clinics were opened by emergency doctors in the 1970s after they saw the need for access to quick medical care. Since then, more than 10,000 urgent care clinics have opened around the country, and there are nearly 20,000 doctors in America who practice urgent care medicine.
There are two associations that oversee urgent care clinics: the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAA) and the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine (AAUCM). In order to qualify as an urgent care center, these clinics generally must meet criteria like:
- The clinic needs to treat walk in patients during its normal business hours.
- The clinic must be open on Saturday and/or Sunday.
- There needs to be a licensed, practicing physician as the medical director.
- The center needs to have multiple examination rooms.
A Guide To Your First Urgent Care Visit
There are number of things that you can do to make your experience with an urgent care clinic more convenient. Here are a few tips to make sure you have a positive experience:
Schedule an appointment. Many urgent care centers still allow patients to make appointments either online or on the phone. Some even have convenient applications you can download to your phone. While even walk in patients are seen quickly — the average wait time is under 15 minutes — you can shorten the time further by making an appointment. It should be noted that while the wait in emergency rooms can last hours, the typical urgent care patient is in and out of the clinic within an hour.
Do not expect to see a physician. Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants help keep patient costs down, but this does not mean the care you receive will be of a lower quality. These medical professionals are eminently qualified and may even prescribe medications. For serious issues, you may still see a physician.
If you have the option, go between Tuesday and Thursday. Granted, not everyone has this option. However, Tuesday through Thursday at lunchtime is usually the least busy time at these community health centers.
There are number of conditions and problems that could be diagnosed and treated at urgent care centers. Whether you have a muscle sprain, upper respiratory infection, or a small wound, you can receive treatment. Approximately 90% of all urgent care centers offer fracture care too, and another 70% also offer intravenous fluids for dehydration.
While your primary care physician should always be your first choice for a doctor’s appointment, you can save time and money by knowing when to visit an urgent care center instead. And when you need fast care outside of regular office hours, walk in clinics are the only thing standing between you and a $1,500 medical bill.