What is an Urgent Care Facility?
An urgent care facility is one that is focused on the delivery of ambulatory care outside of a traditional emergency room. Urgent care centers treat injuries and illnesses that require immediate attention, but are not serious enough to warrant an emergency room visit. Urgent care medical clinics are not typically open 24 hours a day, but in the U.S. most are open by 8:00 am and close after 7:00 pm.
History of Urgent Care Medicine
Urgent care centers were first opened in the 70 by emergency medicine physicians who wanted to fulfill a public need for convenient access to unscheduled medical care/treatment. The centers were well-received, the main draw of them being the monetary savings when compared to emergency rooms. Thus, they have become ubiquitous, with urgent care numbers nearly rivaling emergency room numbers.
Today, an estimated 3 million patients visit urgent care centers each week, and there are over 20,000 physicians practicing urgent care medicine.
Urgent Care Criteria
The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine (AAUCM) and the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) have set criteria for the proper and ethical running of urgent care centers. These include:
-Must be open 7 days a week
-Must accept walk-in patients during business hours
-Must have a licensed physician operating as the medical director
-Must contain multiple exam rooms
-Must treat a broad spectrum of illnesses/injuries, must also perform minor medical procedures
-Must have onsite diagnostic equipment (phlebotomy, x-ray, etc)
-Must meet other various ethical/business standards
Ailments Treated and Advantages over ER
As previously mentioned, urgent care centers have grown in popularity over the years due to their convenience and also the monetary savings in comparison to emergency rooms — urgent care numbers have been rising right along with emergency room numbers.
It has been proven to be more efficient in terms of time and money to utilize urgent care than emergency departments for illnesses/injuries that are urgent, but not life-threatening. Examples of ailments and injuries warranting an urgent care visit would include:
-Minor Asthma attack
-Minor head injury (no loss of consciousness)
-Insect or dog bite
-Mild stomach pain
By visiting an urgent care center for any of the above problems, one can save hours of wait time and hundreds of dollars. The average wait time at an urgent care facility is about 30 minutes, versus the standard of an hour or more at an emergency room. The average cost of an urgent care visit (the co-pay, or portion of cost not covered by insurance) is about $100, while the cost for an emergency room visit may typically be $500 or more.
Those monetary and temporal advantages are the reason why urgent care numbers have been rapidly increasing alongside emergency room numbers both in the U.S. and throughout the world.