There was a time when if you were injured or became sick on the weekend or after hours, you have only one option for care and that was the emergency room. The hospital emergency room us a very important place and they save many lives. The only issue is that if you have such minor injuries and illnesses as a sprained ankle or strep throat, waiting for hours and hours can be an intimidating experience.
Some medical professionals thought that there had to be a better way. They got together and created urgent care centers that were developed to treat these minor injuries and illnesses at night and on the weekend. This happened in the 1970s. These doctors understood that there are a host of minor illnesses and injuries that do not need to be treated in a hospital but need to be treated right away. Anyone who has fallen on the tennis court and hurt their knee or ankle knows how painful it is. They do not want to wait until their doctor’s office opens on Monday morning. The same can be said for really bad coughs. They are painful and keep you up and you want to be seen sooner than later. More often than not, these are not conditions that will land you in the hospital so going to a walk in clinic sounds a whole lot better than the emergency room.
Since the first urgent care center opened in the 1970s the area of health care has grown tremendously. Today, there are about 10,000 urgent care centers around the United States. Emergency room doctors were responsible for the opening of many of them. About half of the centers that are open today are owned either by one doctor or a group of doctors. The reason for the growth rate appears to be that these urgent care clinics serve a real need in American health care. People like being able to get their minor injuries and illnesses treated without an appointment and during hours that are convenient for them.
Health care in urgent care centers is a lot less expensive than what is provided in an emergency room. For this reason, these health care centers have been embraced by many health care carriers and plans.
The wait time in these health care centers beats that for most emergency rooms. In more than half (60%), patients have a wait time that is less than 15 minutes. Care is provided by either a physician or a mid-level medical provider. There is a doctor on site whenever the center is open in about 65% of them. The vast majority of walk-in urgent care clinics are open every day of the week. The number is 97% of them. Almost all (99%) have at least four hours each day.
What are the minor injuries and illnesses can be treated at urgent care centers?
- Sprains and strains and minor fractures. Most of these centers have x-ray technology so they can properly diagnose which one you have.
- Mild to moderate back injuries.
- Breathing problems such as mild to moderate asthma.
- Small cuts.
- Severe coughs or sore throats
- Eye redness and irritation.
- Fever or flu.
- Vomiting or diarrhea that will not stop. They can also treat any dehydration that comes along with it.
- Skin rashes and infections.
- Urinary tract infections.
Many walk in clinics also offer travel clinic services. These are also not even provided by primary care doctors. This kind of care includes prophylactic treatments to prevent malaria and yellow fever. If you are planning that trip to Tanzania for a safari, you can go to a walk in clinic for your yellow fever.
There are times when you really do need to be seen and evaluated in hospital emergency room. Any condition that may end up with an admission in the hospital should be seen in this setting.
What do you do if you are not sure if you need an emergency room or can go to an urgent care center? Some seemingly minor injuries or illnesses may not be as minor as they seem. Now there is a third kind of center, the hybrid urgent care center and emergency room.