Why After Hours Urgent Care Should Be Your First Choice for Care

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A cut while preparing dinner. A sudden fever in the middle of the night. Chest pains that don’t want to go away. Medical emergencies happen to all of us. When they happen after regular business hours, as so many emergencies do, the question inevitably becomes: Can I wait to see my primary care physician? If not, should I go to the ER or find an after hours urgent care center?

Is it really an emergency?

The first question to ask yourself before deciding where to seek medical care is if your condition is a genuine emergency. Ideally, you will go through your primary care physician first for any medical needs. If your primary care physician determines your symptoms warrant immediate care, then he or she will refer you to urgent care facilities or an emergency room.

Many primary care physicians block time in their daily schedules for same-day or “sick” appointments for those patients experiencing minor illnesses or injuries. Some primary care physicians also offer after hours appointments for patients who develop symptoms later in the day or work during business hours. If your primary care physician doesn’t provide this, you could try searching for same-day appointments in new primary care physician reviews to find one who does.

That being said, even a primary care physician who provides after-hours care can’t always be available. The fact remains that the U.S. is still experiencing a shortage of primary care physicians. Current data suggests we’ll need to add 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025 across the country to meet the anticipated need.

Your primary care physician is a great resource, but if your symptoms are too severe to wait for the next available appointment, it’s time to look into after hours urgent care or an emergency room visit.

When to use after hours urgent care

Urgent care centers are designed for the treatment of medical conditions that require immediate care but are not life-threatening. As a walk in health clinic, an after hours urgent care center can provide easy access to medical care during times your primary care physician is unavailable. Examples of ailments warranting a visit to an urgent care center include:

  • Sprains or ligament strains
  • Accidents or falls
  • Mild to moderate breathing problems such as from asthma
  • Cuts which aren’t bleeding profusely but will require stitches
  • Fever or other flu symptoms
  • Fractures or minor broken bones

Why use after hours urgent care instead of the emergency room

The benefit to using an after hours urgent care clinic as opposed to the emergency room is largely a cost-savings one. According to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the average emergency room patient will pay $1,318 for his or her visit. This cost only gets higher the more we use the emergency room incorrectly.

Emergency rooms cannot deny care to any patients who come to them. It doesn’t matter what your condition is, if you are insured or financially capable of paying, if you visit an emergency room and wait for your turn, you will receive medical care. Because they end up treating patients who are ultimately unable to pay for the cost of their care, emergency rooms are forced to charge more for the services they offer. With an after hours urgent care center, you don’t have to worry about this cost inflation. You pay only for the care you receive, not the care someone else failed to pay for.

The other benefit of an after hours urgent care center is the wait time is often far less than that of an emergency room. A study run between 2003 and 2009 found that the average wait emergency room wait time increased by 25% during that period. Patients went from waiting 46.5 minutes on average to 58.1 minutes on average. Nearly ten years later, this wait time is sure to have only grown.

When to use the emergency room

With all these benefits to urgent care, why would you ever want to visit the emergency room?

Emergency rooms are designed to treat the most severe illnesses and injuries. As such, they have the most and best medical equipment available. If your condition is life-threatening, you should still head for an emergency room instead of any other family care providers.

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