Once frowned down upon and regarded as “doc-in-box” clinics, urgent care centers have now become an integral part of the American health care system, so much so that it’s difficult — if not painful — to imagine what life was like without them.
Though the urgent care movement began nearly forty years ago during the 1970′s, it seems as though it has just begun to garner national attention in recent years. Urgent care facilities quickly gained popularity as the filled the gap between hospital emergency departments and traditional physician offices by being able to provide quality, affordable, and convenient health care.
However, many ER physicians are concerned that patients view urgent care centers as alternatives to emergency departments, a mistake that can be fatal.
According to a recent poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians, nearly three quarters (71 percent) of emergency physicians who participated in the poll said they treat patients who go to the emergency room only after first seeking treatment at an urgent care center on a daily basis.
The poll went on to reveal that 90 percent of emergency physicians claim that one of the main reasons patients are referred to the emergency department is because the patients’ current medical conditions were more severe than what could be treated at an urgent care center.
Urgent care services focus on the evaluation and treatment of acutely occurring medical conditions that require some form of immediate medical treatment, yet are not serious enough to require emergency medical care. However, as urgent care centers continue to play a more significant role in the American health care system by offering more advanced services, this distinction is often blurred.
However, ER physicians are urging patients to focus on understanding the difference and putting their health first. Many patients fear the long waits and hefty bills that are often associated with an emergency room visit, however, ER physicians caution this choice could prove fatal, especially for serious medical conditions when time is of the essence.