When Should You Visit Urgent Care?



We’ve all been there as parents…when a child becomes ill on a weekend or seems to get markedly worse after the doctor has gone home for the day, we may find ourselves questioning whether waiting until the next business day is a good idea. When fevers spike unusually high, ankles get twisted, or when the crying just won’t stop, many people are opting to use Urgent Care centers instead of waiting for the doctor’s office to open or heading to the emergency room. Over the past two decades, Urgent Care facilities have responded to an increased demand for cost-effective, accessible medical care. Still, many parents and caregivers have questions about how to handle after-hour medical concerns.

What is Urgent Care?

Urgent Care clinics first began to appear in the United States in the 1970s, and have become an increasingly important part of the healthcare industry. Urgent Care centers provide ambulatory care on a walk-in basis, and usually have hours that extend beyond those of a traditional primary-care provider. These facilities generally accept patients of all ages and treat a broad-spectrum of illness and injuries. Some have the ability to perform minor procedures, and most have diagnostic services such as phlebotomy (blood work) and x-ray available on-site.

How does Urgent Care Differ?

Dr. Bill Buffington is the director of PhysicianCare PM, a small, privately owned Urgent Care facility in Edmond. After graduating from the OU College of Medicine in 1985, Dr. Buffington did his postgraduate training in Family Medicine. As a member of the Army Reserve, Dr. Buffington received additional training in trauma-related medicine and developed an interest in Emergency Medicine. He went on to work in several Emergency Room settings before switching to Urgent Care in 2002. In 2007, he partnered with a group of local physicians and founded PhysicianCare PM.

“Urgent Care facilities should be utilized for anything you would see your primary care physician (PCP) for, plus minor trauma and lacerations. Waiting times are usually less and the cost to patients or insurance carriers is significantly lower than emergency room care,” says Buffington. “Urgent Care should not be used to replace a patient’s primary care physician, nor can they offer the degree of comprehensive care of an emergency room. Anyone who thinks they are having a heart attack, stroke, or might be ill enough to be admitted to the hospital should go directly to the ER,” he cautions. However, minor injuries and illnesses must be put to the back of the line due to the severity of more emergent cases that come into the ER. “These conditions are where Urgent Care comes in handy to lessen the load of the ER and provide timely and appropriate care to patients,” says Buffington.

Most cuts, sprains and strains can easily be treated at Urgent Care facilities, as well as any illness that would cause you to schedule a visit with your PCP. With regard to injuries, those which are often sustained in minor automobile or household accidents, or while working out or playing sports can generally be assessed at an Urgent Care center. If a broken bone is suspected, most Urgent Care facilities can diagnose and stabilize the injury and provide a referral to an orthopedic specialist. If you’re uncertain as to whether an injury falls into this category, use your best judgement.Pain level is often a good indicator.

“Urgent Care providers are very conscious of their shortcomings when dealing with serious injuries and ailments, and will quickly send you to an ER or even call 911 when necessary,” says Buffington. Still, he notes, “waiting all weekend to see your PCP when you are ill is not prudent. The treatment is sometimes more difficult and the illness may become more severe.” In addition, he notes that “primary care providers can be overwhelmed on Mondays, and treatment may be delayed even further as a result. For parents, I tell them anything they would not wait to treat in their children, they should not wait to treat for themselves.”

Bottom line? Urgent Care centers are a great option for illness and injuries that occur after hours or on weekends for patients of all ages. They offer treatment options for minor injuries and common illnesses at a fraction of the cost of emergency care, often with shorter wait times and without an appointment. There’s no reason to suffer through until Monday morning anymore, just to avoid a trip to the ER.

Shannon Fields is a freelance writer from Edmond and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions

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