While urgent care centers have been around since the 1970s, they’ve only become popular as a go-to medical facility in the past decade or so. According to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, visits to urgent care clinics increased by 119 percent among commercially insured Americans between 2008 and 2015. During the same time period, emergency room visits for low-severity conditions (like those treated at urgent care centers) decreased by 36 percent.
The question is, when is it appropriate to visit an urgent care facility and when should you head to the emergency room?
The severity of the condition should really be the trigger as to whether to go to an urgent care center or to the emergency department. Urgent Cares tend to see mostly sore throats, coughs, colds and flu, that type of thing. Other symptoms, such as a severe, sudden headache, chest pain, or shortness of breath indicate that an individual should go to the ER.
Any type of trauma that presents a potential threat to an organ or to a limb should also be seen in the Emergency Department. The important thing to remember is if these types of drastic issues arise, do not delay calling 9-1-1.
Cost of Care Considerations
It’s not uncommon for someone suffering from troublesome symptoms to “jump the gun” and visit the ER for immediate answers. Surveys reveal that approximately 50 percent of patients who were seen in the ER would have been better served by an urgent care center or a primary care physician.
To clarify: These patients would not necessarily get better care somewhere else, but rather that they would be able to get the same level of care at a fraction of the cost.
Urgent Care Docs: The New PCP?
Many young adults are substituting urgent care centers for a primary care physician. Convenience can be cited as the most likely reason for this rising trend. Urgent care models afford convenience above everything, so patients are able to see somebody very quickly as opposed to having to make an appointment with a primary care physician—if they even have a primary care physician to begin with.
In order to make a visit to an urgent care center as smooth as possible, patients need to be patient. Allow a bit of time to be seen and know you may not be seen right away. A successful visit is also marked by a patient coming in with as much knowledge and awareness about their symptoms as possible—and to also follow the doctor’s advice once the check-up has finished.