Emergency health care services include hospital emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. The emergency room is designed for life-and-death situations that require more complicated equipment, while urgent care clinics are for minor health issues that require timely care. Before you choose the best urgency care center for your needs, it’s important to understand what qualities separate the best urgent care centers.
When you need urgent care, it’s a good idea to visit one near your home. No one wants to drive hours to get care for a sick child or a broken bone, so the location of the clinic matters. You might need to return for a follow-up appointment, so choosing a clinic near your home will save time and money.
Another useful rule for choosing urgent care clinics is the health care affiliations. Many urgent care clinics are connected to local hospitals or health care facilities. Having an affiliation with other health care centers often improves the quality of care, because the centers have more providers and better equipment. Affiliated centers share medical records and insurance information, so you’ll spend less time working with office employees and more time being seen by providers.
Insurance and Payment
Before you spend time in the urgent care waiting room, check if the center accepts your insurance. If the urgent care center accepts your insurance, you’ll spend less time on the phone coordinating benefits and figuring out what you owe. If the clinic cannot answer your questions about insurance, check your insurance company’s website or call the hotline to ask if the clinic near your home participates with them.
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Urgent care centers aren’t usually staffed by physicians, as they’re often at hospitals or their own medical offices. Instead, you’ll probably see a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant. These providers can prescribe medicine and manage minor health care issues. If you have a health care emergency that requires a physician, you’re better off visiting the hospital with the full cadre of doctors and equipment. While parents often bring their children to urgent care clinics for minor problems like ear infections or strep throat, not all clinics have providers and equipment designed to treat children.
Your local urgent care center will be stocked with medical equipment that helps providers diagnose minor health problems, most aren’t filled with labs or imaging services. If you have a medical emergency that requires more complicated medical equipment, you might want to consider visiting a hospital emergency room instead. Remember that you can always call the urgent care center to ask if they can treat your health care issue.
Sometimes, urgent care providers will diagnose a problem, then send the patient to the nearest hospital for specialized care. If your health problem is a true emergency, it’s better to call the urgent care clinic before you arrive, so you don’t waste your time visiting the clinic then having to travel to the hospital. When in doubt, call first.
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