Urgent care as an industry began taking shape in the early seventies as a cost effective alternative to emergency room (ER) facilities. This model works as they are designed to serve only the acute medical needs of patients. These clinics are more convenient than a general practitioner (GP) in so far as working hours are concerned and the fact that these clinics qualify as walk-in clinics. One of the primary objectives of urgent care clinics is to ease the burden ERs and accommodate and attend to more people in need of medical attention. Therefore, they can distribute efforts and contain costs.
Features of Urgent Care Centers.
Factors like working hours, the scope of available services and the doctor – patient relationship play an important role in distinguishing the functions of an urgent care clinic from that of the emergency room.
• Unlike your family GP, urgent care centers do not require an appointment. Patients can simply walk-in unscheduled.
• Typically, urgent care clinics are open from 9 to 5 on weekdays. Some open earlier, some stay open later, and some also offer limited hours over weekends and holidays. There are also a small number of clinics that are open 24/7.
• The model assures lower overhead costs by the virtue of their size, scope and staffing policies, which means the centers can then pass these savings along to patients.
• The centers are a boon for people who are away from home and who are not in position to reach his or her primary GP.
• Most insurance companies have listed these centers as approved service providers and even offer lower co-pays, thus making it easier for their customers to receive treatment.
• There are more urgent care clinics in the United States than hospitals and ERs, making it more likely that one will be close and convenient.
• Urgent care is where a patient can go for temporary medical assistance that is non-life-threatening; or to seek transitory relief until they can consult with their primary GP.
However, urgent care centers are not recommended, nor intended, to treat critical trauma, life endangering issues or conditions that threaten permanent disability. Those issues must be attended to at a hospital’s Emergency Room, which is the only option fully equipped to deal with emergencies. What people usually fail to comprehend is that urgent care is not a full alternative to the Emergency Room. Also patients should not attempt to manage chronic diseases at an urgent care facility. Any condition that requires constant physical examination or follow-up are better treated with a GP.
Urgent care clinics are extraordinarily useful for when you find yourself with a runny nose and your GP gives you an appointment two weeks away. They are meant to provide outpatient diagnosis and treatment of non-life threatening conditions and can attend to minor lacerations, provide intravenous hydration, or even offer certain therapies. Some of these centers offer advanced imaging services and pathological testing labs but it is a good idea to confirm these services with the center before making the trip. If a patient arrives with a condition beyond the treatment capabilities of the urgent care clinic, the clinic is prepared with transfer or referral protocols to help the patient get the care they need at the proper facility.
Other limitations of Urgent Care:
• Larger clinics that offer a wide coverage of various ailments and specialty services may have higher costs which get passed on to patients without health insurance.
• Patient confusion about whether an urgent care center or ER can best treat their condition can lead to longer wait times.
• Urgent care clinics are not staffed nor equipped to treat severe chronic underlying conditions.
• Unlike an Emergency Room, most urgent care centers do not offer 24/7 availability. Which means even if a condition is best treated at an urgent care center, a patient will either have to wait or seek treatment at an ER if they must be seen quickly when an urgent care clinic is closed.
• Unlike at an ER, urgent care physicians do not have the luxury of retaining you until you are fully recovered. They can do no more than examine you, prescribe medication and release you.
• It would be a wasted trip and wasted time if you end up being referred to the ER by your Urgent Care center.
• ERs are equipped for with all manner of life saving equipment and are usually attached to a hospital so getting any immediate follow up tests is easy. Urgent care centers typically will not be able to offer the same level of service.
Though the list above provides some examples of the limitations of the urgent care model, they certainly shouldn’t cast a pall on the entire industry. Every system has its own limitations or is meant to address certain issues with great care. Urgent care centers are just a part of the wider health care system, intended to help tackle the wait time and overcrowding problems found in the ER.
The growth rate of urgent care clinics throughout the country and even in other nations over all these years reflects the marvelous achievement of the industry in retaining the faith of patients and providing quality care at the right price.