Monday Medical: Understanding urgent care
Editor’s note: This column was updated at 7:10 p.m.
For illnesses and injuries that need to be addressed quickly but aren’t serious enough to warrant a trip to the emergency department, a trip to your local urgent care may a good choice.
Benefits of urgent care
Urgent care services are typically available seven days a week with extended evening and weekend hours, including capabilities such as X-ray and laboratory testing.
“Urgent care clinics bring value to any community by providing additional access for patients to be seen after hours in the evening and on weekends,” said Lori Japp, a certified physician assistant who is the vice president of Urgent Care and Employer Solutions with UCHealth. “And it is definitely a lower cost alternative of care compared to the emergency department. For a basic visit, urgent care can be 10% to 15% of the cost of an emergency department visit.”
Not to mention, visits are usually quick.
When to go to urgent care
If your injury or illness is not life- or limb-threatening but needs to be addressed before an appointment is available with your primary care provider, urgent care is a good option. Issues that can be addressed at urgent care include injuries such as broken bones, lacerations, minor burns, sprains and strains; illnesses such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and upper respiratory infections; and other issues such as rashes, dog bites and foreign bodies in the eye, nose or under the skin.
“As a general rule, if it’s life- or limb-threatening, go to the emergency department,” Japp said. “Making that decision as a patient can be challenging, but you should always err on the side of caution. If you have chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, head trauma or a severe allergic reaction, we want you in the emergency department.”
If a patient goes to urgent care but would be better served in the emergency department, the provider will refer the patient to the ER.
Don’t forget to reach out to your primary care provider first.
“They should be your first point of contact if the issue is not life threatening,” Japp said. “If an illness or injury cannot wait until the next day or the next available appointment, it’s very appropriate to be seen in the urgent care setting.”
Other things to know
Patients of all ages can be treated at an urgent care facility.
X-rays can be taken on site, and rapid testing for acute illnesses, such as strep throat, influenza and COVID-19, are also available via urgent care.
Because many urgent cares also offer occupational medicine, it is an appropriate place to receive initial treatment of work-related injuries that aren’t life-threatening.
“Patients shouldn’t wait to be seen,” Japp said. “If it worsens or gets more serious, it could require an emergency department visit.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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