When to use “urgent care”?

When to use "urgent care"?

Where do you go? Your relative has distressing symptoms. The primary care doctor’s office is closed, or they don’t have an opening anytime soon. The Emergency Room is open 24/7 but will involve long waits and a lot of stress.

An urgent care center is a great middle ground. It’s generally convenient—open evening hours—and is less crowded than the ER. Your relative will be seen fairly quickly. Consider urgent care if the situation deserves prompt attention (within 24 hours) but is not life threatening.

Appropriate conditions for urgent care include the following: 

  • Aches and pains from a muscle sprain
  • Sore throat, sinus pain, urinary tract or other infection
  • Skin wound or swelling, such as from a skin tear or insect bite
  • Diarrhea or other digestive upset
  • Broken finger or toe

Treatment may be provided by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Some centers also have doctors on staff. Most urgent care centers can conduct basic blood work and other common diagnostic tests.

Go to the ER if your loved one has a more-severe condition.
This is the choice when time is of the essence, when your relative needs immediate attention by a doctor. (If the person you care for has a complex medical history, you might elect to go to the ER even if the situation is not dire. The ER is staffed by doctors who have easy access to specialists. They can determine if symptoms are related to your relative’s other conditions.)

Situations that call for the Emergency Room include the following:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Trouble breathing
  • Compound bone fracture (bone has broken through the skin)
  • Head injury
  • Seizures
  • Sudden paralysis or weakness on one side of the body (stroke)
  • Severe pain anywhere (head, abdomen)
  • Uncontrolled bleeding

Make plans ahead of a crisis.

  • What are the centers closest to your loved one’s house?
  • Which one does their primary care doctor recommend?
  • What are the hours?
  • Is a doctor always on site?
  • Is the center on your family member’s insurance plan? If your loved one has Medicare Advantage, for instance, you may be restricted to centers within the network.

Ask for a treatment statement before you leave.
This is equally true for the ER or urgent care. As soon as possible, contact your loved one’s primary care doctor. Let the doctor know what treatment was provided and schedule a follow-up office visit, if advised.