Urgent Care: When is the Right Time to Go?

Kacey Whitlock

Author

Most of the time, the majority of us are fortunate enough to remain healthy and injury free. We might have an occasional cold or pick up a bad cough, but such problems are usually only minor. If all goes well, we will usually make a full recovery in just a few days or so. From time to time, though, something more serious may happen. We can develop an illness that needs more than just a few tylenols. We can also experience injuries that can cause long-term pain and discomfort. In some cases, our very lives may even be at risk. Depending on the severity of the case, we might arrange to speak with our regular doctors. Waiting for an appointment is not always a good idea, though. Another option is to go to the emergency ward, but is your case really an emergency? While we may want treatment quickly, going to an emergency room may be a case of overkill. Fortunately, there is a 3rd option which makes a suitable compromise between the two: Urgent care.

What Is Urgent Care?

An urgent care center is similar to an emergency ward, only they are not equipped to deal with life-threatening cases. Many provide 24-hour urgent care, meaning you can get treatment whenever you need it, albeit it for cases that are not an immediate threat to your life. Not all are open 24/7 but they will still generally have more flexible urgent care hours than your regular doctor will. You should check first before leaving to make sure you can get treatment when you arrive. They make a good solution that helps the patient and helps relieve the pressure on often stretched emergency departments. All you need to do is to decide when you should choose urgent care over the emergency ward, or even waiting for your regular doctor to become available. The good news is that the decision is usually a fairly straight-forward one to make.

A Life-Threatening Condition?

You’ve managed to break a bone in your arm falling off a ladder while doing some DIY around the home. You obviously need medical attention, and quickly, so you might head straight to the emergency ward. The thing is, though, and as painful as a broken bone can be, it is not usually a life-threatening condition. You will not usually require extensive emergency surgery to save your life. You will not need to be worked on by a time of doctors to keep you alive. Rather, you need a medical team that can help relieve pain, prevent infection and set about fixing the problem for you. This is where an urgent care department comes in. They may not have the equipment needed to save lives in the case of extensive injuries. They are perfectly equipped, however, to deal with broken bones. In some instances, they might even be the better option of the two because they are able to give you the attention you need in the absence of more urgent cases. Bear in mind that while an injury such as a broken bone is not always life-threatening, some cases should still be considered to be a medical emergency. Should the bone be protruding through the skin, for example, then you should head to an emergency room straight away. The same goes for all types of injury in that it is the severity of the injury that determines where you should go. If you are in doubt then play it safe and go to an emergency room straight away.

Illness

A cold or the flu are illnesses that we can usually brush off in just a few days or so. Although they can be dangerous for some people. Being sick is no fun and you will often want a remedy that’s stronger than what you can buy over the counter. You will also often fall ill at ill-opportune times, such as when you regular doctor is not available. You won’t want to wait around for too long. You will want treatment as soon as possible. Again, though, does your condition really warrant a trip to the emergency ward? The answer is, usually, no.

An urgent care center will be well equipped to help relieve symptoms and causes of a nasty cold, flu or other illness. They can help you to feel comfortable in the short term while helping to make you better in the long term. What’s more is that they will also be equipped with labs and other testing facilities so that can test your blood and anything else necessary. They may even be in a better position to help you then a busy emergency will.

Pre-Existing Conditions

Many of us have long-term conditions that can cause some very unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms. These can lead to the patient needing treatment or medicine as soon as possible. Again, waiting for your regular doctor may simply be impractical while heading to an emergency ward may not be necessary. An urgent care center will make the ideal compromise between the two.

Whether or not you need an urgent care center or an emergency ward in such a situation would be down to your condition and your symptoms. Some symptoms can be deadly and should be treated as a medical emergency. If you are not sure, then take no risks and get to an emergency room immediately.

Waiting Times

Nobody likes being in a room having to wait with a lot of other sick people. Unfortunately, though, few of us have any choice in the matter when we need help. Go to an emergency room on a bad day and you might find yourself having to wait a very long time indeed. Bear in mind that somebody that has just arrived after a serious road traffic accident will need attention more urgently than your broken finger. At least with an urgent care centre you are less likely to have to wait around for long before being treated.

That’s not to say that urgent care centers can’t be busy. There will be times when there is quite a long queue in front of you. At least, though, it is still likely to be faster than an emergency room and certainly faster than having to wait until your regular doctor is available.

Cost

While cost should not really be a factor when it comes to our health, medical bills can be very expensive. Even if you are in the fortunate position of being able to afford proper medical care then it is still wise to cut down on costs when you can.

An urgent care center is likely to cost you less than an emergency room will. This is good news for people that might find it difficult to pay their medical bills. You can also try checking in advance to find out the costs before you go. Bear in mind that in the case of real emergencies, you should be concerned with getting treatment first. Worrying about costs should come later.

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Convenience

Even though an emergency room will be open 24/7, getting there is not always easy. For many people, it can be quite far away and there can also be a lot of traffic to get through. While an ambulance can cut through the traffic and treat you on the way, regular vehicles cannot. This is not a good thing at the best of times, let alone when you are in pain or feeling sick.

Instead of being placed in a centralized location, urgent care centers tend to be dispersed in multiple locations around town and cities. This means that there is likely to be one considerably closer to you than an emergency room. Remember, though, that an emergency room might be the only suitable option in case of genuine emergencies. Making the wrong decision to save yourself some time could end up being a catastrophic decision.

Helping Those That Need It

Another good reason to use an urgent care clinic over an emergency room is simply consideration for those that are in greater need. A busy emergency room will often be struggling to keep up with genuinely urgent cases. Your presence for a non-emergency case can place more burden on the doctors and nurses that are already struggling.

This should not deter you from going to an emergency room if your life is genuinely in danger, though. You deserve to be treated just as much as anybody else. If you think you genuinely need an emergency room then get to one as soon as possible.

Summary
Whether or not you should choose to go to an urgent care center over other options is largely a matter of common sense. They do provide an excellent alternative to other the other options, providing you with added convenience. It is important to remember, though, that as beneficial as they are, they are limited in how much they can help. If your case is a serious emergency that poses a genuine threat to your life, an emergency room should be your only consideration.

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