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Debunking The Top 10 Misconceptions About Urgent Care

Urgent care centers are a “halfway point” between a general practitioner (GP) and the emergency room (ER). Urgent care is an ideal option in many situations where care from a trained, experienced provider is certainly an “urgent” need, but it is not a medical emergency.

Unfortunately, urgent care centers are often overlooked or forgotten about when someone needs to see a doctor. Trips to the emergency room are a knee-jerk reaction for many, regardless of the distinct benefits an urgent care facility provides. Dismissing urgent care as a viable option comes from decades of myths and misconceptions about what they offer and why the ER isn’t always the best option for quality, efficient, and quick medical care.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions about urgent care – and the real story behind them.

Urgent care is expensive. 

Typically, most patients will only be required to cover their standard co-pay for an office visit and their insurance provider will cover any other expenses to an urgent care center. Overall cost to your local urgent care center may vary, but it’s much cheaper than the median cost of a trip to the emergency room: about $1,233 per visit.

You’ll wait just as long as you would at the ER.

Anyone who has ever visited an emergency room knows that the fast-paced ER can be overcrowded at any time of day or night and that long wait times are expected. A typical ER wait time is around one hour, but a typical urgent care center wait time is under 20 minutes.

You need an appointment.

Many, if not all, urgent care centers in the United States offer same-day appointments or welcome walk-ins without an appointment. Same-day appointments assure the patient that they will be seen and help the urgent care facility stay organized, but walk-ins are also accepted without reservation.

Only a hospital can provide testing services.

Urgent care facilities are well equipped for a variety of screening procedures. Many provide X-rays, EKGs and on-site laboratory testing. This cuts down on patient travel time between facilities and overall cost.

The ER is best for broken bones and deep cuts.

You’d be surprised to learn about the lengthy list of healthcare services that urgent care centers provide. The medical staff at urgent care facilities can address bone fractures, non-severe lacerations, muscle sprains and strains, asthma, pink eye, all types of infections (including respiratory), vaccinations, high fever with a rash, colds, flu, IV hydration, and even travel medicines.

Urgent care centers are only open from 9 to 5.

One key benefit of a local urgent care center is that its hours are outside the typical schedule kept by most general practitioners. Most urgent care facilities are open between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. and often offer weekend hours as well. This is not the same as the 24-hour availability of an emergency room, but it does accommodate for those who are unwell but unable to leave work or school to address the issue.

You need to be a current patient.

Urgent care centers affiliated with general family practices do not require pre-registration in order to benefit from their services. Urgent care centers exist for the very purpose of administering immediate care for all.

Urgent care centers can replace your GP.

Patients are still encouraged to visit with their regular doctor in situations where care is not needed urgently, including for physicals and other preventative screenings.

Urgent care centers are hard to find.

About 75 percent of urgent care centers are located in suburban areas, providing easy access to medical care for the majority of Americans. Fifteen percent are located in urban areas, and the remaining 10 percent can be found in rural areas.

Urgent care facilities just send patients to the ER.

Urgent care centers only send patients to the ER when a situation has escalated into a medical emergency or it was already an emergency when they arrived at the facility. An urgent care center may refer patients to a specialist, but all non-emergency issues are addressed at an urgent care center appointment.

When the ER is necessary

For all the benefits of a local urgent care center, sometimes the ER cannot be avoided. In the following cases, skip the urgent care center and go directly to the ER:

  • Seizures

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Sudden severe pain or swelling

  • Sudden change in vision

  • Altered mental status

  • Confusion

  • Head or eye injuries

  • Severe burns

  • Deep, severe lacerations  

The above list contains distinct cases where a situation has evolved into an emergency and urgent care is no longer appropriate.

Finding your local urgent care center

Finding your local urgent care center ahead of time is always recommended for several reasons:

  • Establish where to go. By knowing the location of your closest urgent care facility, you can avoid looking up your best options while also dealing with flu symptoms or a sprained muscle.

  • Check if the facility accepts your insurance. This will prevent any stress or concern regarding the cost of your visit in the event that your insurance happens to not be accepted.

  • Know where and how to make an appointment. Programming your local urgent care center’s phone number into your contacts or address book, or bookmarking its web address, will help you book an appointment easily later on, making it easier to go to the urgent care center when you’re not feeling well.

About Pacific Family Practice

Pacific Family Practice (PFP) provides exceptional primary and urgent care for all patients from San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Marin County and the entire San Francisco Bay area. We offer flexible hours, immediate care appointments, and same-day walk-ins at our San Francisco clinic. PFP’s board-certified family doctors provide a full range of medical care, including pediatrics, women’s health, internal medicine, and urgent care services. If you need urgent care in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit PFP instead of taking a trip to the emergency room.

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.