Every day, people across the United States injure themselves or become sick when their doctor’s office is closed. These people cannot wait for that office to open but are not sick enough or hurt badly enough to require getting treatment from a hospital. Luckily for them, there are other options for after hours medical treatment. Urgent care centers have popped up all over the country to help people at night and on the weekends when something happens.
The first urgent care centers opened in the United States in the 1970s. Since the first walk in clinic opened back then, more than 6,800 urgent care centers opened up around the nation. A number of these urgent walk in clinics were started by emergency room doctors. They did this because of the number of people who needed medical care but did not need to be seen in the emergency room. The care that is offered by urgent care centers is much less expensive that the care people receive in emergency rooms. This is one of the reasons they have popped up in so many areas of the country. At the end of 2014, it was estimated that the urgent care industry was worth $14.5 billion.
There are several places you can turn when you or a family member is sick or injured. Many people in the United States do not think that they need a primary care physician but this is the first place you should go if you are sick or injured. One reason that it is so important to have a primary care doctor is that they can be a great resource when something happens. Because they know you, they can tell you when a medical issue that comes up unexpectedly is a true emergency or not.
Any condition or injury that may require further treatment in a hospital should be treated in the emergency room. A few examples of these conditions and injuries are:
- Persistent chest pain, especially if this radiates down the left arm or can be felt elsewhere.
- Any indication that a person has suffered a stroke. There is an acronym people use: FAST. This stands for face drooping, arm weakness, slurred speech and time to call 911.
- Any head injury that causes a loss of consciousness.
- A compound fracture of any bone.
- Severe abdominal pain.
- A fever in infants.
- Bleeding that will not be stopped.
- Any stabbing or gunshot wound.
This list is not exhaustive.
There are a number of conditions and injuries that are better treated at urgent care centers. These include:
- Muscle sprains and strains.
- Coughs and colds.
Urinary tract infections.
- Small cuts.
Vomiting, diarrhea or dehydration
- Skin rashes and infections.
- Simple bone fractures.
One kind of care that is offered at walk in clinics that you may not even be able to get at your primary care doctor’s office is travel medicine. If you are going to a part of the world where it is recommended that you get certain vaccinations, many urgent care centers and walk in clinics offer more help than you will get at your doctor’s office. They can also offer prophylactic medications to prevent malaria and other conditions. The only vaccine that people are legally required to get is the Yellow Fever vaccine, which is not offered at most primary care offices.
Going for medical treatment at urgent care centers will take a lot less time than going to the hospital emergency room. Whereas you can expect to wait for hours to be seen and treated at the emergency room, most people who are seen in urgent care centers are in and out in under an hour. Nearly 60% of people who seek out care in walk in clinics are seen within about 15 minutes of their arrival and nearly 80% have been seen and treated within 60 minutes, according to the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAA).
When you become ill or hurt at night or on the weekend, it may seem like the only option you have is to go to the local hospital emergency room. The good news is most urgent care clinics are open after 7:00 pm and on the weekends.