It’s hard to believe that urgent care facilities were once regarded as “doc-in-a-box” clinics — or in other words, not a “real” doctor — considering the integral role they play in the American healthcare system now. Time and time again, urgent care clinics continue to prove their worth by bridging the gap between overcrowded hospital emergency rooms and short-staffed primary care physician offices.
The significant role of urgent care centers was most recently highlighted by a string of recent outbreaks of infectious disease, including a measles outbreak in southern California which spread to 11 states, the Ebola outbreak during the fall of 2014, and particularly severe cold and flu season. While the Ebola outbreak did not directly affect urgent care facilities, clinics across the country began preparing for the worst by stocking up on hazardous material gear after a police officer who searched the apartment of the first patient to die of Ebola in U.S. visited an urgent care center seeking treatment for Ebola-like symptoms. It was later found that the officer did not have Ebola.
So what is urgent care and why is it so important? Urgent care facilities are designed to evaluate and treat acutely arising medical conditions that are not severe enough to warrant emergency medical care but still require some form of medical attention. In recent years however, urgent care centers have begun taking on more responsibility, and are equipped to treat a wider range of medical conditions.
Here are three reasons why you may want to visit one.
A visit to an urgent care center will costs far less than an emergency room visit, which can easily cost upwards of thousands of dollars. One the other hand, an uninsured patient visiting an urgent care center may only have to pay a few hundred.
Urgent care centers pride themselves on offering convenient, flexible hours of operation as opposed to primary care physicians that may only be open between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the other hand, many urgent care centers are open 24 hours, and can treat walk-in patients in under an hour, compared to hours of waiting at an emergency room.
As urgent care centers take on a more prominent role in the healthcare industry, they’ve up the ante in terms of medical equipment and range of services, with many facilities now equipped with x-ray machines, sonogram equipment, in-house pharmacies and more. More on this topic.