Illnesses and injuries often happen in the middle of the night, on weekends and during holidays outside of normal business hours.  However, not all sudden health conditions require emergency treatment, and a patient may find himself faced with a large medical bill not covered by insurance.  Urgent care centers, a growing segment of the health care facility field, offer an efficient and affordable alternative in many situations.

When to Go to the Emergency Room
A condition that appears to be life-threatening or that could result in severe adverse health consequences could make an emergency room visit advisable.  However, going to the emergency room may be needed only if you or anyone you know is experiencing any of the following conditions.

  • Heavy bleeding that cannot be stopped
  • Significant breathing problems
  • Unusual behavior such as confusion, disorientation or difficulty in being roused
  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Unconsciousness or fainting
  • A desire to commit suicide or murder
  • A significant head injury
  • Severe, persistent or continuous vomiting
  • Sudden severe pain in any part of the body
  • Sudden dizziness, vision changes or weakness
  • Sudden injury from an auto accident, burns and smoke inhalation from a fire, a near drowning or large or deep wounds or burns
  • Poison ingestion
  • Pain or pressure in the upper abdomen

If you have any doubt about the severity of an illness or injury, your body is your first indicator.  It knows when it needs professional medical help.  If you are still in doubt, a quick call to a nurse hotline, an on-call colleague of the family doctor or an urgent care center often yields valuable advice.

When to Go to an Urgent Care Center
Other less serious health emergencies may be better handled in an urgent care center. While some may appear quite severe, many can be safely handled by the center’s staff. For example;

  • Animal bites
  • Back pain
  • Bone fractures
  • Bumps, cuts or bruises
  • Burning pain while urinating
  • Earaches and sinus pain
  • Eye swelling or pain
  • Mild asthma symptoms
  • Minor cold and flu symptoms such as low fever, aches and pains
  • Minor headaches
  • Gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Sprains and strains
  • Stitches for small wounds and their subsequent removal

Why Choose an Urgent Care Center?
The fees for an emergency room visit can be quite high and may not be covered fully by insurance.

  • Medical Expenses – Urgent care centers charge about one tenth as much as an emergency room.  A patient is charged a copayment that is usually equivalent to an average doctor’s office fee.  Some urgent care centers may charge a specialist copay.  You should contact your insurance company if you have a question regarding your copay.
  • Wait Time – A patient usually only has a brief wait before being seen by a medical professional at an urgent care center, typically about a half hour.  In contrast, a visit to the emergency room often requires several hours’ wait.
  • Diagnosis and Medication – Urgent care centers are able to take x-rays and perform many diagnostic tests on-site.  In some states, they are permitted to dispense pre-packaged prescription medications from their dispensaries, eliminating a patient’s need to find a pharmacy that is open for business.
  • Contracting Infections – Because of significantly shorter waiting times, a patient reduces his exposure to infectious diseases.  For example, nosocomial infections, those acquired in a healthcare setting, can rise significantly during a flu epidemic.
  • Medical Resources – Hospital emergency rooms have finite resources that are intended for the treatment of seriously ill and injured patients. Nonemergency visits strain these resources unnecessarily.

The Final Decision
A sudden health emergency can create much anxiety for the patient and his loved ones. While going to the emergency room was once the only option available when the doctor’s office was closed, urgent care centers today serve as a convenient and safe alternative. In addition to providing the treatment, most accept a range of insurance plans or offer cash options.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Michele Holincheck, FNP