We’ve all been there. It’s Friday evening, and just as you’re making big plans for your weekend, you realize that your child has a high fever that is steadily rising. This is a good time to get them into the doctor; some issues can be easily treated with a round of antibiotics. Others require more attention. Either way, a doctor can diagnose and determine the best treatment for your child, if one is available. But this if Friday evening. There’s no chance you’ll be able to get your child in to the doctors until Monday. Your child could get the help they need at the emergency room, but unless it’s a medical emergency that you’re facing, it’s not really what the emergency room is designed for. So what do you do?
Cue the family urgent care. Family urgent cares fill the void between what your primary care physician offers and the care provided by the emergency room. If this is the first time you’re hearing about family urgent care, you probably live under a rock. There are over 9,000 urgent care facilities across the United States. So most likely, you’ve heard of them, but don’t really know what they’re about. To help you out, we’ve put together a drive-by guide to catch you up on family urgent care clinics.
Four Things You Need to Know About Urgent Care
- Urgent care does not replace your doctor.
There are a lot of medical treatment plans that take ongoing monitoring and adjustments and tweaks. Maybe the medication you’re taking for your thyroid production is right according to the last blood work you took, but when you’re retested in six months, your medications might need to change a bit. This is a job for your doctor, or a specialist who your doctor refers you to.
When you go to urgent care, you’ll see the first available provider. They’ll have record of your previous visits, but they won’t have the relationship and personal knowledge of your medical history to make adjustments to your ongoing care. If you do see an urgent care for an ongoing medical treatment you need, they will likely provide you with the immediate care you need, but give you instructions to talk to your own doctor for long term changes.
- But urgent care does offer many of the same treatments you’d get a physician’s office… and a few more.
That being said, if your medical need is not a continual treatment, an urgent care facility might be able to give you the same treatment you’d get from your doctor. You need a prescription for your upper respiratory infection. Check. You need a quick test to see if you have strep throat or a urinary tract infection. Check. You need to have bug bite checked out. Check and check.
In fact, some services that your regular doctor does not offer are available at urgent care. If you need intravenous fluids, there is a 70% chance that your urgent care clinic offers it. If you need fracture care, your regular doctor cannot help you, but your local urgent care is most likely equipped to. Your doctor might or might not have lab services on site, but most urgent cares do. And all of this is available on a walk-in basis, and usually during hours that are convenient to you — while most doctor’s offices close at 5:00, 95% of urgent care clinics are open past 7:00 in the evening.
- Urgent care is not the emergency room…
The emergency room has one specific job. To treat life-threatening injuries. If the medical treatment you need is life-threatening, you need to skip visiting urgent care and go to the emergency room.
- But it helps the emergency room run more efficiently.
While the ER is meant for life-threatening medical needs, many times, the long wait times in ER waiting rooms are due to medical needs that are not emergencies. Sore throats, itchy eyes, minor burns or back pain that cannot wait until a primary care physician is available often end up in the ER, and tie up the resources that are needed for when the heart attack patient or the stab wound patient comes in. If these non-emergency situations went to urgent care instead of ER, lives could be saved.