Although there are admittedly opportunities for improvement in the United States’ medical infrastructure, Americans are fortunate to have one of the most extensive and inclusive medical care systems in the world. Over 87% of Americans have healthcare insurance. Even the 13% of Americans who do not have medical insurance still have the same access to medical services; mo one is denied medical care for financial reasons in the United States.
Studies show that more than 80% of Americans have a regular physician for medical care and maintenance. For medical issues that need to be treated immediately, there are 5,025 emergency rooms available to take any patient on demand, as they have an oath to never turn a patient away.
Within the last 10 years, a new phenomenon has developed that perfectly fills the void between the services that a regular physician provides and that of the emergency department. Urgent care centers were relatively unknown prior to 2008. Since then, more than 300 new urgent care centers have been established every year, with momentum growing exponentially after 2011. Today there are more than 7,100 urgent care centers in the United States.
What exactly is an urgent care center?
By definition, urgent care clinics provide treatment for patients who need medical care within the next 24 hours. The most common reason that a patient visits an urgent care is for upper respiratory illness. Other frequent issues are non-emergency burns, bone care such as sprains and fractures, and infections that just require a script for antibiotics. The role that urgent cares play in our medical infrastructure is vital, as urgent medical issues don’t tend to wait until business hours when your regular physician can see you, but filling up the emergency room with non-emergency medical issues is dangerous to patients who need to be seen for life-threatening conditions.
The Advantage Urgent Care Offers the Medical Industry
The greatest advantage urgent care offers both patients and medical providers is being available on a walk-in basis. Many times, the primary care physician is unable to make a last-minute appointments if an unexpected medical issue arises, whereas that is the very purpose of urgent care.
Another advantage urgent cares centers offer patients that they are usually open in a wider range of hours, including weekends and holidays, in which the regular physician office is not open. Prior to the development of urgent cares, nearly half of ER patients that did not end up being admitted into the hospital only made to visit because their primary physician’s office was not open. Urgent care centers are taking that burden off of the emergency room.
Additionally, urgent care clinics can provide services that a primary care physician cannot provide. For example, 70% of urgent care clinics can administer fluids intravenously if needed. This is often not provided by primary physicians, and saves patients a trip to the emergency room. Most urgent cares also offer on-site lab test, x-rays, and fracture care.
Unless a medical condition is life-threatening, often times urgent care is preferable to ER. Over 60% of urgent care patience experience a wait time less than 15 minutes. This also benefits ER providers, because the lightened burden of non-emergency issues results in lower ER wait times as well. Another advantage urgent cares provide patients is the average cost is about half of what an ER charges.
Disadvantages of Urgent Care
Urgent care is not interchangeable with the emergency room. They are not equipped to handle life-threatening emergencies, and should not be utilized for such occasions.
One benefit to visiting your primary care physician over going to the urgent care is your physician has a history with you and your medical care. It is unlikely that you’ll always get the same physician at an urgent care for every visit. This means that you will have to refresh each provider with your medical history. Some critics of the urgent care industry also claim that patients who have delicate issues that they are uncomfortable discussing with a new provider will be less forthcoming and not receive the same standard of care if they are seen by a different doctor for every visit.
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