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When to Use Urgent Care

We all know that Emergency Departments are over-crowded with long waits and exorbitant fees.  Free standing Urgent Care is a great solution for getting immediate care that won't break the bank.

Most are open after hours and on weekends and they provide a good and needed service for urgent small problems.

The key word here is "Small".  Or said another way; "Minor".   Most Urgent Care facilities are staffed by one or two nurses.  They can provide minimal immediate testing and sometimes a quick Xray.  They work with protocols to treat simple problems.  They can give immunizations and do rapid strept tests.  They can check urine for pregnancy or infection.  They can treat a new cough. They can remove splinters, tape a broken toe and treat a rash.  These are minor problems for most people and do not need to be seen in an Emergency Department.  The best place is your doctor's office but Urgent Care is a good alternative.

It's hard to know what is "minor" and what needs a higher level of attention so here are some tips.  You may not need them now, but when you have an urgent medical problem I hope you will remember and head to the ED instead.

Don't Go to Urgent Care If:

  • You have serious underlying medical problems like heart failure, insulin dependent diabetes, cancer,  just out of surgery,  frail elderly, or an illness that has been getting worse over weeks.

  • You have sudden dizziness or chest pain

  • Your baby is lethargic and not drinking

  • You have severe abdominal pain or are vomiting with pain

  • You have been sick for days and have taken a turn for the worst

  • You have a head injury

  • Your vision has suddenly changed

  • You cant walk and don't know why

  • You cant breathe and don't know why

Most Urgent Care will simply divert these patients to an Emergency Department for evaluation but you would waste precious time and money when you should just go to the ED directly.  Urgent care does not have the clinical expertise or the equipment to treat serious problems.

If you have a primary care physician, a phone call to him/her is usually the first best bet to get advice and direction about next steps.


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