Posted by Michael Barber, June 23, 2013 (last updated on July 23, 2019)
Urgent care centers are a great tool for individuals faced with modern healthcare issues. Today there are more than 9,000 locations around the United States serving patients. However, there are five things every patient should know before choosing to visit an urgent care.
Urgent Care Wait Times Average 15-45 Minutes
While over 50% of urgent care patients wait 15 minutes or less, the average urgent care location ranges between 15-45 minutes Patients should anticipate waiting for a visit after they walk in, particularly during peak times for that particular location. It may sound like a long time, but consider that the expected wait time for urgent care is much shorter than emergency rooms, which averages 2.4 hours. To reduce wait times, patients are sometimes able to check-in online. Some urgent care locations offer online medical history forms, too. By checking in online and having a printed, filled out medical history form, patients can dramatically reduce their wait time for treatment.
Urgent Care Is Not an Emergency Room
According to the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine, two-thirds of emergency rooms have shut down since the 1980s because of insolvency, patients choosing urgent care, and medical doctor shortages. However, this does not mean that urgent care locations are a replacement for ER services. Urgent care centers are not equipped to deal with major traumas, heart attacks, nor child-birth. People suffering from life threatening injuries or illness should always call 911. If you need immediate care after urgent care clinic hours will need to go to an emergency room if they cannot wait until morning. However, most urgent care locations have extended hours: the average urgent care center is only closed from 9 PM to 7 AM. Hours vary by site, so patients should check with their local urgent care.
Patients Pay for Services
Urgent care is not free; however, it is much less expensive than typical emergency room visits. An average ER visit could cost an insured patient $1,000 depending on your plans deductible, whereas that same insured urgent care patient will have a copay of between $35-75. Prices depend your insurance and upon services rendered, such as X-rays, throat cultures, stitches, and shots. Urgent care patients without insurance should expect to pay with either cash or credit cards for their appointments prior to being seen by a healthcare provider.
Not all Urgent Care Centers Are Equal
Some urgent care locations are certified, and some are not. The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, for instance, offers an accreditation program for urgent care centers with strict operating standards. Some locations might offer X-ray machines, while others are more limited concerning the services they provide. It's best to investigate the locations you would like to use before you go, so that you aren't turned away. It’s also a good idea, if you have time, to research a few of the clinics you are considering going to on Urgent Care Locations to compare patient ratings and reviews. And once you have visited a provider, leave a review yourself to help inform other prospective patients.
Telemedicine Is Possible in Many States
Physicians working in urgent care clinics may now be able to visit with patients via video conferencing services such as Skype. While state law dictates which states are participating, many doctors enjoy this futuristic tool. Patients utilizing telemedicine will be able to choose a doctor from any urgent care location in their home state, rather than one close to home. Knowing these five things will prepare you for a better visit at urgent care locations. Remember to bring your insurance card, and to have a list of your symptoms handy so that your visit goes smoothly.