Urgent care clinics are a convenient resource due to being open outside normal work hours, including weekends. As such, urgent care clinics are common places to go for illness treatment as they are able to provide routine care and carry out testing on a more urgent basis. A step below emergency care, they can be much faster than trying to book an appointment with your primary physician and may be cheaper than an emergency room visit.
When to visit an urgent care clinic
If you are unsure when to visit an emergency room instead of urgent care, consider these things:
- Is it life-threatening? If yes, then go to the ER or call 9-1-1
- Are you having difficulty breathing or shortness of breath?
- Significant chest pain
- Has your skull been impacted?
- Loss of consciousness
- Experienced a stroke with symptoms such as slurred speech or weakness in limbs
- Allergic reactions
These are only a few examples of when emergency treatment is required, otherwise, an urgent care clinic is equipped to treat various illness and injuries. If you arrive at the urgent care clinic with a life-threatening condition, an ambulance will be called to take you to a hospital for emergency care.
What to expect in an urgent care clinic
Urgent care clinics do not require appointments and walk-ins are accepted. When you go to an urgent care clinic, especially for the first time, it is important that you bring a valid ID, insurance card, your medical history and any medications you are currently taking. While wait times vary, they can be around 30 minutes — you should use this time to fill out any medical forms or paperwork that the clinic requires, which you receive from the receptionist. These can range from a medical questionnaire to insurance forms. Note your symptoms and when they have been occurring. Not all illnesses can be diagnosed through physical signs and by keeping track, it can aid the physician in narrowing down a treatment.
Once the paperwork is filled out, you will eventually be ushered into an exam room where a physician or medical assistant will greet you. An assessment will then be carried out, which can include questions and a physical exam. The urgent care physician may order tests. These services are often done in the clinic themselves, such as x-rays, lab tests, vital signs, screenings and physical assessments. Appointment times can range from one to two hours, depending on the complexity of the illness.
Following further investigation, the physician will proceed with a treatment plan. This can include treatment at the clinic, additional visits or a medication prescription. Depending on the diagnosed illness, some physicians may order a referral for more specialized treatment.
The bottom line
It is essential that the treatment plan is thoroughly followed in order to properly treat the illness. After your visit, prescriptions should be taken to the local pharmacy and filled out as soon as possible. If test results are not immediately available during the initial visit, the clinic will either call or book an appointment to discuss the results with you. If immediate steps are taken, an urgent care clinic can help avoid any emergency room visits.
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