A great deal of the focus in many medical systems and practices is the term “continuum of care.” In some fields, mental health for instance, that means having a tiered system by which patients can receive the treatment level that they need. Hospitals, partial hospitalization programs, therapists and doctors, can provide that continuum of care.
In a broader sense, continuum of care applies to the whole healthcare system, where the two most used routes have long been the personal physician and the hospital. Unfortunately, this poses many problems. A physician takes time and an appointment to see, which makes urgent healthcare needs difficult. A hospital takes on severe cases and may discharge individuals based on that severity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48% of all adult ER patients who were not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital sought treatment at the ER because their physicians’ offices were closed.
Fortunately, a less well known option that some say is effective has developed within the last few years. These urgent care centers have taken the place of the middle of the continuum. Most are open late–much later than a typical physician’s office. These late hours (91% are open until 7pm on weeknights and 40% are open until 9pm) allow patients who have urgent medical needs to seek help.
They also have some of the same treatments as hospitals. Four out of five urgent care centers provide fracture care and 70% of urgent care centers can provide IV fluids if needed. The owner of urgent care centers may surprise you: 50% are owned by a physician or a group of physicians.
Medical urgent care is important. Medical urgent care enables you to receive care on demand when your physician’s office is closed. Medical urgent care from urgent care centers can also lighten the load for emergency rooms and hospitals.
The effectiveness of these urgent care centers is easy to see through statistics:
- One in five urgent care centers see more than 450 patients per week.
- 60% of urgent care centers have a wait time of 15 minutes or less.
- 65% have a physician on-site at all times.
- According to a survey, 57% of patients wait 15 minutes or less, with 80% waiting less than 60 minutes.
Most urgent care centers are also technologically savvy. 40% use electronic prescription ordering systems, with larger proportions using computerized systems for viewing lab and imaging results, collecting patient demographics, and other components of a healthcare system such as billing, coding, and clinical notes.
When you’re considering what level of care to use, think about asking the following questions:
- How urgent is my need (immediate, days, weeks)?
- How serious is my need (mild, moderate, severe)?
When you know the answer to those questions, know that urgent care centers can be more cost-effective than hospitals, with a service for ailments that need medical urgent care but are less severe than those cases that gain hospital admittance.