For many patients, urgent care centers can fill a need that isn't being filled by traditional doctors' offices and emergency rooms. Where do you go when your pediatrician's office is closed for the weekend and you're pretty sure that your child has strep throat? Where can you go when you have a sprain that needs to be treated before you go into work the next day, but your doctor's office is closed for the night? For these non-emergent but still serious situations, urgent care offers a solution. However, there are a few things you should find out before you head out to the nearest urgent care.
1. Can They Do Labs and X-rays?
Not all urgent care centers are equipped to perform blood tests, urinalysis tests, or X-rays and other imaging tests. If you suspect that you're going to need labs or X-rays, it's a good idea to find out if the urgent care center you're planning to go to offers these services – if not, you may just waste a trip, and you might still need to go to the emergency room or to a different urgent care center. You can find out if an urgent care clinic offers the tests you need by calling or checking their website.
2. Will Your Insurance Cover it?
Don't wait until you need an urgent care clinic to figure out how you might pay for one if you do need it – check with your insurance company when you're well and healthy, and file the information away for future use. All insurance plans are different, but usually the co-pay for an urgent care visit is higher than a visit to your primary care physician would be, but lower than the co-pay for an emergency room visit. Find out what your urgent care co-pay is and if there are any circumstances in which your insurance won't pay for an urgent care visit.
3. Do They Treat the Problem That You're Having?
Some urgent care clinics are affiliated with or attached to hospitals. Some are freestanding and independent. Some are really just convenience clinics located inside a drugstore or pharmacy. All of them are useful, but they often serve different functions, so it's a good idea to be sure that they can handle your medical issue.
Pediatricians are in short supply in many urgent care departments, so if you're a parent looking for treatment for a child, double check to make sure that there's a pediatric doctor on duty before you go to urgent care – if not, you may be better off in the emergency room or in a dedicated pediatric urgent care clinic. Hospital-affiliated urgent cares are usually equipped to handle most patients and most types of illnesses. Private, freestanding urgent care clinics may handle a range of medical problems, or they may specialize in a specific field of medicine, like cardiovascular care or obstetrics. Pharmacy-based clinics often focus on first aid and common illnesses like flu or strep, and may not be the best choice if you're having heart palpitations or a spike in your blood pressure.
Urgent care clinics are an important part of your community's healthcare options. Gathering information about your local urgent care clinics now can help you make a better decision when you need care urgently.