Life threatening emergencies, such as a head injury or a heart attack, should be handled by emergency rooms (ER) exclusively. However, if you need medical attention for something not quite as serious such as a mild cut or sprained ankle, an urgent care unit is more than adequate. Emergency rooms are essential for treating trauma, heart attacks, strokes, and other life-threatening emergencies but they’re not necessarily needed for the more minor injuries of life that still require treatment.
Urgent care units are popular because of their low waiting times, their flexible payment options, their efficiency, their professionalism, and of course for their staffs. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are about 9,000 walk in health clinics in the country. Of those, nearly 95% have at least on physician on staff. Although 24 hour urgent care units do exist, many clinics have set hours. Still, the hours tend to be very flexible and accessible for people who work during the day. A recent national survey has shown that more than 67% of urgent care units are open before 9 in the morning on weekdays. About 46% of units are open Saturdays and 31% are open Sundays.
Moreover, walk in medical clinics have shorter waiting times compared to the ER. About 69% of urgent care units have a waiting time less than 20 minutes; 28% have an average time of 21 to 40 minutes; and a mere 3% have a time of 40 minutes or longer. Anyone that’s ever had a medical emergency knows that no one wants to stay in the hospital longer than you have to, which is why urgent care centers provide an attractive alternative to the ER.
You should still go to the ER immediately if you have something that threatens your life. For everything else, walk in clinics do just as well.