Before the proliferation of urgent care centers, your only choice for minor medical issues was the doctor's office. However, many doctor's offices have limited hours and even more limited open appointments. This would often dictate a trip to an emergency room for issues that were relatively benign, such as a prescription for antibiotics or a few stitches to close a minor cut.
Many emergency rooms also require non-emergency patients to wait for hours for treatment, and the cost is measurably more expensive than a visit to a family doctor's office. Urgent care centers fill the void when you need reasonably priced treatment at a normally unreasonable hour.
What types of services are offered at urgent care centers?
Diagnosis of minor illnesses
Most urgent care centers are staffed by physician's assistants, who can diagnose and treat health issues as well as prescribe medications. Urgent care centers can test for common maladies such as strep throat as well as strep and urinary tract infections.
Antibiotics can be prescribed for bacterial infections, while antiviral medications can be given for viruses such as the flu. Immediate treatment will usually shorten the duration and intensity of these infections, so urgent care centers provide an essential service when a patient cannot see a doctor or sit in an ER for hours waiting for service.
Most school systems require specific inoculations before a student can attend classes at the beginning of the school year. If your child lacks one or more of the required inoculations, they can get vaccinating and receive documentation of the treatment to take to school.
Treatment of minor injuries
Urgent care centers can treat minor injuries such as cuts that require stitches and sprains that need to be wrapped. Prescriptions for stronger painkillers and muscle relaxers can be provided, but narcotics are not offered in this type of setting because of the widespread abuse of opioid pain medications.
What are some of the other benefits of visiting an urgent care center?
If you don't have medical insurance, a trip to the emergency room of a local hospital can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on the care provided. Urgent care centers provide the same services for a fraction of the cost.
Patients with medical insurance usually pay only a copay that is slightly higher than that paid to a private physician, and much less that the copay paid for a trip to the ER.
This is the main benefit of an urgent care center. Many of these centers are located in large drug store chains with numerous locations, so you can visit the urgent care center in your area and get your prescription at the same location.
Some hospitals have urgent care centers near their emergency rooms, so patients with minor issues can avoid the ER wait time and expense. This provides a dual benefit, because if you have an illness or injury that is too serious for the urgent care center, you can transfer to the ER without delay or further travel.
Urgent care centers can't do everything, but if you need help with a minor medical issue when your doctor's office is closed, they are there when you need them.