Have you ever woken up at night with ear pain so bad it makes you sick? Your first thought might have been the emergency room, and while it’s never a bad idea to check into an ER when you’re in serious pain without explanation, there’s a less costly and just as effective option for non-life-threatening ailments: urgent care.
The surge in urgent care centers across the country is a truly remarkable innovation in medical services. For injuries or ailments that require medical attention but are not life-threatening, urgent care can be a quick and affordable alternative to emergency rooms. A typical trip to an urgent care clinic costs 40 to 50 percent less than a trip to an ER. And since you don’t need an appointment at an urgent care place, you can walk as needed. Wait times are much shorter here.
When should you check out an urgent care place?
Despite the increasing popularity of urgent care clinics, you might not know just how equipped these centers are at handling your problem. An urgent care center usually has a staff of trained medical professionals, including nurse practitioners and doctors who can diagnose conditions and prescribe medicine. If your regular doctor isn’t open and you’re not experiencing life-threatening symptoms, then you should consider a walk-in clinic. They may be able to treat:
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Skin problems, including rashes, bites, burns, cuts and scrapes
- Allergic reactions, like hives, that aren’t affecting your breathing
- Fractures and sprains, and minor broken bones
- STD symptoms
Urgent care centers may also be able to handle routine preventive services. If your doctor is booked for months ahead of time and you need a physical, for example, then you can usually get basic preventive services at a walk-in clinic. That might include gynecological exams, drug screenings, well-baby checks, vaccines and school or work-related physicals. You may also be able to get an X-ray or EKG at an urgent care place, saving time and money over making a trip to a diagnostic imagining center.
While urgent care centers are certainly convenient, in some cases a hospital visit is necessary. Life-threatening symptoms or medical problems demand fast attention and equipment that urgent care centers may not have. If you experience the following, head to an ER or call 911:
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe abdominal pain
- Severe heart palpitations
- Severe headache (the worst you’ve ever had)
- Open wounds that won’t stop bleeding
- Head or eye injuries
- Severe burns
- Sudden weakness or paralysis
- Sudden difficulty speaking
- Persistent chest pain, especially if it radiates down your arm
Babies under three months old should always be taken to an ER for troubling symptoms because infants require specialized care. And if you’re ever in doubt over whether to visit an ER or an urgent care center, don’t hesitate to check in with your local emergency department or call 911. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to medical issues.