Posted by Naomi Nessim, November 26, 2016 (last updated on November 20, 2020)
You woke up with a bad back—yikes. You have a few options: you can call your physician to book an appointment (though it could take several days), go to emergency care, or head to urgent care for immediate assistance.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to know when to go to urgent care vs. the ER, as well as when to go to urgent care vs. a doctor. So, it’s important to understand what’s considered urgent care, in terms of which services and treatments can be provided.
Here’s a tip though: Urgent care is the best plan in this case. Back pain and back injuries can worsen with time, so getting a set of eyes and hands on that area fast is key; yet, it’s definitely not an emergency. Fortunately, the staff at urgent care can look at back pain and provide relief. From there, the next steps will be decided in subsequent treatment.
Still, there are a few common mistakes to avoid when using urgent care, to guarantee your time and money are used effectively and you’re able to get the help you need.
1. Not Knowing Your Insurance Information
Luckily, urgent cares often take a few types of insurance—so the price isn’t as steep as you might think. However, you’ll still need to make sure that your own insurance plan allows for urgent care coverage and that your chosen walk-in clinic accepts it before seeing a physician.
Call your insurance provider to discuss urgent care payment options before heading to the clinic. You don’t want to be hit with an unexpected large bill at the end or unfavorable co-pay.
2. Thinking You Can Get Refills On Prescriptions
Yes, urgent care centers can write prescriptions for medicine, such as anti-inflammatory painkillers and acne medication; however, there will be a cap on the number of pills, and you won’t be able to get a refill unless you make another appointment at the center, and the practitioner finds it sensible.
What’s more, if you already take meds, such as Adderall, an urgent care clinic cannot refill that prescription for you. They do not know your medical history and can’t take on that responsibility. This will require assistance from a primary physician.
3. Treating it as an Emergency Room
Here’s how to know when to go to urgent care vs. the ER: if it’s not an emergency situation, such as a stroke or heart attack, severe bleeding, vision changes, or difficulty breathing, urgent care is your best option. However, if you do need instant care for a life-threatening condition, don’t go to urgent care—you need to book it to the ER.
You don’t want to go to the wrong place, as this will delay treatment and could be hazardous. If you do go to the ER for an urgent care problem, you’ll also deal with the financial costs.
Some urgent care clinics are actually emergency rooms in disguise, where the center is attached to a hospital, for instance. In this case, you could be billed for an ER visit—which will be expensive—as opposed to urgent care, which is really what you were looking for. Be sure to inquire about urgent care payment options and whether or not the visit will be billed under emergency room or urgent care.
4. Expecting to Be Seen By an MD
First off—just because you’re not guaranteed to see an MD, it doesn’t mean you’re in mediocre hands. On the contrary, the nurse practitioners and assistant physicians at urgent care centers are fantastic and highly knowledgeable. They can offer a diagnosis, treatment plan, and direct support right when you need it.
Just make sure you’re aware of who will be seeing you and to not expect a different level of degree.
5. Assuming All Urgent Cares Offer the Same Treatments
Clinics can differ in the services they provide. Some can stitch you up in cases of bleeding and offer STD and STI testing on-site; however, others might not. This all depends on the type of facility, the demographic and location, and what types of staff and medical equipment are available.
Call the center first if you’re concerned about what’s considered urgent care in that specific location to make sure you can get the services you need and save yourself a useless trip. If you can’t find what you need, there’s sure to be another center nearby that has more resources for you.