Posted by Michael Barber, March 09, 2020 (last updated on March 09, 2020)
If you or a loved one have an illness or injury that requires immediate medical care but is not so severe that you need to spend hours (and hundreds or thousands of dollars) at the emergency room (ER), you’ll likely want to head to urgent care. It’s usually a good decision given their extended hours, range of service offerings, and the on-demand nature of these clinics allowing for walk-in patients.
Once you make that decision to go to urgent care instead of the ER, you probably want to know how you can have the best urgent care experience possible. Here we’ll walk through many of the most common questions associated with urgent care visits including concerns of wait times and the availability of appointments. Understanding these facts about urgent care centers could help reduce your wait time and improve your experience throughout your visit.
How long is the wait time at urgent care?
Wait times at any healthcare provider can vary. In general, when you come to an urgent care facility, your wait time is going to be less than an hour. In fact, according to the Urgent Care Association’s 2016 Benchmarking Report 92% of urgent care clinics maintained wait times of 30 minutes or less. A Solv internal analysis further discovered that 57% of urgent care patients experience a wait time less than 15 minutes. On average, wait times at urgent care facilities when you haven’t booked your visit in advance typically range from 15 to 40 minutes.
However, it's important to remember that this is an estimate as wait times can be unpredictable. Your wait will vary depending on how busy the facility is and what other patients come in just before, or even after you arrive. It's also important to reiterate that these facilities are not first come, first served. Urgent care facilities sometimes serve patients based on need. If someone comes in after you with a more serious problem, it is possible that they will be seen before you.
Of course, waiting in the lobby of an urgent care is really only part of the total wait time. After you have been called back into a room, it may still be some time before you are seen by a provider. Again, this depends on what else is going on in the facility. This additional wait time is usually just a couple of minutes, but may be extended based on surrounding circumstances.
If it is a busy day and more people with serious injuries come in after you have been called back, it is likely that your wait in the room will be long. This would be the same at any urgent care or even an emergency room. However, it is also just as likely that you'll see a doctor (or other qualified provider) within a few minutes of your arrival.
How long do walk-in clinics take?
The amount of time it takes from the moment you enter an urgent care center to when you leave is commonly referred to as the “door-to-door time.” Seeing how no one likes waiting and all convenient healthcare options aim to get you in and out quickly, shorter door-to-door times are preferred by both patients and providers. For urgent care, the average door-to-door time ranges from around 55 to 70 minutes. Of course, this is an average range only and is certain to vary from clinic-to-clinic and based on time of the day you are visiting.
What is the best time to go to urgent care?
Generally speaking, early mornings right when the clinic opens and around lunch time are the busiest for urgent care centers and other walk-in clinics. People either suffered through the night with symptoms and are ready for care, or trying to squeeze a visit in during their lunch hour. As such, if you have an option, find a different time.
Usually mid-morning and late afternoons are the best times to visit an urgent care. Of course, this varies by location and you should always check the wait time of the clinic you are looking to visit. Or, even better, book online in advance!
Additionally, Monday’s are typically the busiest day of the week, coming off the weekend, with visit demand tapering off as the week progresses. Weekends - particularly Sunday afternoon - may be the best day for your urgent care visit, but again, check with your local clinic for their availability.
What happens when you walk into an urgent care center?
When you walk into an urgent care center, what happens next usually depends on whether you booked your visit in advance, or you are walking in unannounced. Given that the majority of patients still just walk-in, we’ll explore that path first.
When walking into an urgent care center, particularly if you are a first time patient at the clinic, you should expect to check in at a kiosk or with the front desk, and be handed some paperwork to complete. This will likely include the following:
- Patient registration form
- Medical history form
- Financial consent form
- Treatment consent form
While you are working on completing these, the front desk will need your driver's license and insurance card to make copies. Based on your insurance, you will likely need to pay a copay for your visit, usually between $25-50.
After you are all checked in and registered, sit back and relax. Depending on how busy the clinic is, you could be waiting an average of 15 to 40 minutes before you are called back to see a provider.
Book ahead patients
If you were able to book online in advance of arriving, chances are you received text messages from the clinic prior to your arrival. These usually help let you know if the clinic is running ahead or behind on your expected visit time, and sometimes offer other benefits including scanning your insurance card and registering online before arrival. Additionally, you may be able to view a current wait list before you arrive, seeing what position you are on the waitlist. All handy features designed to better communicate with patients and improve your overall experience.
Once you walk-in, you are usually able to either check-in on a kiosk or with the front desk attendant, perhaps sign a consent form or two, pay a copay based on your insurance plan, and wait until you are called back. With an appointment, your wait time is usually far less than if you had walked-in, generally averaging 8-15 minutes. So, sit back and relax for a couple of minutes. You should be called back shortly.
Are urgent care centers first come, first serve?
For most routine visits, urgent care centers are “first come, first served” facilities. Keep in mind, however, that if a patient booked online in advance, the clinic may appear to be taking patients out of order, but that may not really be the case.
Additionally, sometimes patients are seen out of order based on the severity of the illness or injury, not how long they’ve been waiting. For instance, someone with a deep laceration or broken bone may be seen in advance of someone with cold and flu symptoms. This triaging of patients based on presenting symptoms is handled differently by clinic operators and providers, so it is important to ask questions like these if it is important to you.
Do urgent care centers take appointments?
Urgent care centers have large come into popularity given their on-demand approach to healthcare access. You can usually just walk into a clinic and be seen by a qualified healthcare provider within the hour, usually quicker.
However, in a recent study jointly conducted between Solv and the Urgent Care Association (UCA), we found that the #1 thing patients wanted from an urgent care center was the ability to book an appointment.
So, while you do not typically need an appointment for an urgent care visit, many clinics now do allow you to make one. In most instances, this works similarly to call ahead seating at restaurants. You request a time that the clinic shows as available, arrive at the clinic at or just prior to that time, then the clinic will prioritize you visit and get you in quicker than if you had just walked in.
Can I check-in online for urgent care visits?
Many clinics now offer online check-in and paperless registration, which allows a patient to fill out demographics, medical history, and even consent forms at home while they wait for their appointment. For example, if you check-in online and your wait time is 45 minutes, then you could fill out the form and drive to the center just in time for your time slot. That would mean less time in a waiting room and more time in the comfort of your own home.
Do I need an appointment for urgent care?
The answer to this is two-fold. On one hand, you don’t technically need an appointment — virtually all urgent care clinics accept walk-in patients. On the other hand, booking an appointment for an urgent care visit can potentially save you a ton of time.
In fact, the average time people who book an appointment with Solv wait is under 8 minutes. That’s only about 3 minutes longer than you’d wait for your morning coffee at Starbucks! Walk-ins without an appointment wait at least twice as long as those who have an appointment.
Most importantly, you can book appointments around the clock. That means that when it’s 11pm, the clinic is closed, and your kids catch a virus, you can rest easy knowing you have an appointment first thing in the morning.
Should I book an appointment or wait in line?
Do you hate the thought of waiting for healthcare? You’re not the only one. Solv’s survey found that 70% of urgent care patients would prefer to schedule a visit online, rather than wait in line. Some patients even said they would pay more just to be seen faster.
This isn’t that surprising, though. One of the most frustrating things to deal with when you’re sick or have sustained an injury, (or, even worse, if your child is the one not feeling well) is uncertainty. While you can’t control many of the circumstances that cause longer wait times, you can reduce the time you spend in the waiting room by booking an urgent care appointment online.
How do I book an urgent care appointment?
Booking an urgent care visit (they don’t really call them “appointments”) is super simple... if the clinic you want to visit offers online bookings. First, you need to find an urgent care on Solv, the largest directory of urgent care centers in the U.S. with hundreds of clinics accepting online bookings. You’ll be able to see same day and next day availability and confirm your time in just a few clicks. And you can book an appointment 24/7, not needing to wait until the clinic opens to confirm a time for the next day.
After confirming your urgent care appointment, create an account with Solv to:
- Book future urgent care visits in just 2 taps
- Scan your insurance to monitor your deductible and unlock hidden benefits
- Add family members to your account
- Use Solv’s health checklist to remind yourself of important check-ups
- And more!
It is always important to remember that urgent care is not for everyone. If you have a chronic condition, it is best to seek a medical professional who will be able to treat you consistently. Also, if you have a major trauma you should go directly to an emergency room, or call 911 immediately. Urgent care centers do not treat loss of consciousness, major accidents, uncontrollable bleeding, or labor.