For people who wake up in the middle of the night with crushing chest pain, dialing 9-1-1 is the obvious choice. But not every unexpected ache requires emergency care. Less obvious symptoms like nausea or headaches may only require a visit to the patient’s primary care practice, which may be closed during evenings and weekends. With options like urgent care centers, retail “Minute Clinics” and local hospitals all vying for attention, it’s tough to know where to go in case of unexpected medical situations. Fortunately, there are a few ways to narrow down the options when it comes to urgent care.
How severe is the injury? This is one of the primary questions that patients should ask themselves or their loved ones before rushing off to the emergency room. As stated, some symptoms don’t require debate, but it can be hard for untrained patients to identify life-threatening problems. Urgent care centers and retail clinics like CVS’s Minute Clinic offer different medical services. In general, Minute Clinics offer routine check-ups for cold, flu and allergies; blood pressure and blood sugar testing; and prescription-writing services. They’re typically staffed by nurse practitioners.
Urgent care centers, on the other hand, offer many of the same services that primary care physicians offer as well as outpatient testing. According to U.S. News & World Report’s Health blog, “[p]atients would be wise to call ahead to be sure their concern can be handled” by urgent care facilities because the level of care depends on staffing and expertise.
Time and Convenience
Emergency rooms are critical with life-threatening issues, but patients don’t always know for certain when their situation is dire. ConsumerReports.org notes that emergency rooms “typically treat people in order of severity of their case, not by when they arrive.” Time and convenience play an important role in determining the level of care that someone should seek. Minute clinics and urgent care facilities offer extended weekday hours and weekend hours while emergency rooms stay open 24 hours every day.
Retail clinics like Minute Clinic offer the least expensive option for people without insurance. Patients may pay less than $100 for a visit to retail clinics, and some will only pay the price of their co-pay if they have insurance. Urgent care centers may require higher fees, but they don’t charge as much as hospital emergency rooms, which may cost between $400 and $600 for people before insurance. And FairHealthConsumer.org points out that “most health plans will not pay for ER visits for what they consider to be non-emergency care.” That means that something as basic as a sprained ankle could cost $500 to treat at an ER or half that cost at an urgent care facility.
Patients should consider long-term cost in addition to the upfront price for visiting a medical facility. For example, some urgent care centers don’t have the right equipment to evaluate suspicious stomach pains. Patients need to assess whether they can get the right level of care to deal with medical situations quickly and accurately. The best choice for medical care is the one that gives a patient appropriate answers and peace of mind.
If you need help locating a local urgent care center in your area, you can search on UrgentCare.com.