Understanding Urgent Care

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Illnesses and maladies can afflict you and your family at any given time. Unexpected pains, bad colds and persistent unpleasant feelings like nausea can crop up at a moment’s notice. When these afflictions do crop up, you have to a make choice: Do you visit the emergency room, make an appointment with your doctor or visit an urgent care facility?

What is Urgent Care?

At first glance, it may be difficult to differentiate between “urgent” and “emergency room.” Urgent care facilities are like emergency rooms in that they exist when you need to see a doctor but cannot wait for an appointment. However, emergency rooms differ from these facilities in that they’re prepared to treat the most serious and immediately life-threatening conditions, while urgent facilities typically do not have the same resources.

There are nearly 6,800 urgent care facilities in the United States alone. Most of these facilities are in standalone buildings. Almost two-thirds of facilities have a combination of physicians, nurse practitioners or physician assistants. 65% of centers have a physician on site at all times.

Why Choose Urgent Care?

When choosing to go to an urgent care facility, the biggest factor for many patients is time. An appointment with a regular physician can be weeks or even months away. Meanwhile, it could be hour before you’re seen at a emergency room, depending on your condition.

If you find yourself unable to visit a doctor’s office, you’re not alone. Only 29% of primary care doctors have after-hours coverage. A CDC study also found that 48% of adult emergency room patients, who were not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital, said that they only visited the ER because their regular doctor’s office was closed.

Urgent care exists to fill the gap between regular physician visits and the emergency room. They also tend to move quickly. A survey by the Urgent Care Association of America found that 57% of all patients wait 15 minutes or less to be seen. The survey also found that 80% of visits are 60 minutes or less.

A visit to a center is often cost-effective. On average, a visit to a hospital’s emergency department will cost $1,500. At the same time, a visit to an urgent care center costs under $150 on average. If you need to see a medical professional, but are worried about the cost, consider visiting a facility near you.

Urgent care is often cost-effective for hospitals, as well. A 2010 Rand Corporation study found that almost one-in-five emergency room visits could have been treated in an urgent care facility, saving hospitals $4.4 billion annually.

To review: if you need to see a doctor but are not having a medical emergency, a visit to your local urgent care facility is quick and affordable alternative.

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