Urgent care facilities are medical centers with extended hours that are open to walk-in patients with an immediate health problem that does not warrant going to a hospital's emergency room. A certified urgent care facility either has a doctor or a nurse practitioner on site during the times it is open. The following are some common medical terms that relate to urgent care clinics and can help you decide if you need to go your primary care physician, an emergency room or an urgent care clinic.
Emergency Room – A department in a hospital for emergency medical needs that is open 24 hours for walk-in patients. If you have a life threatening medical emergency such as chest pains or a severe allergic reaction, you need to go to the emergency room.
Ambulance – An emergency medical vehicle that will take you to an emergency room. If you need an ambulance, you should call 911.
Clinic – A medical health center that is dedicated to the care of outpatients, those who do not need hospital care.
Primary Care clinic – A center offering consultation by a doctor, usually a primary care physician or family doctor. Most primary care centers have limited hours they are open and provide limited services. If you need a physical for work, or a flu shot, then you should go to a primary care center
Urgent care clinic - Urgent care clinics offer everything between primary care centers and emergency rooms. If you are sick on a weekend when your primary care center is not open, then you should use an urgent care center, as it will save you a good deal of money when compared to an emergency room.
Urgent care clinics were first begun in the 1970's to provide patients with ambulatory care that could not be provided by their primary physicians. While they are often seen as an off-shoot of a typical emergency room, they were actually built to serve a different patient population. Instead of dealing with other medical emergencies, these centers can provide immediate, 24 hour care to those who are suffering from a minor infection, an asthma or allergy attack or the flu.
These clinics are meant to give patients without access to their primary care or family doctors an option for treatment other than the emergency room. Most do not maintain an appointment schedule, instead keeping their days open to treat walk-in patients. Long-term care, such as wellness visits and regular heath physicals do not typically fall within the responsibility of the urgent care clinic. However, they are well equipped to deal with needs like administering antibiotic shots to clear up infections, prescription strength antihistamines to end serious allergic reactions, and addressing chronic coughs or aches and pains. Such centers are neither as well staffed nor well equipped to handle more serious medical emergencies, and as such do not offer ambulance service as an emergency room would.
Online databases with lists of urgent care centers across the country are available. While they often provide the hours of operation as well as the physical location, few provide details on the quality of care that they provide. Talking to your primary health care professional is the best way to get information on the best urgent care center to visit if a medical situation arises when your doctor is unavailable. From treating minor bladder infections to allergy attacks, these life-saving centers provide access to qualified medical attention whenever patients need it.