What is urgent care? Glad you asked. It’s one of the premier methods of treating patients in America and in some cases, around the world. To get a glimpse of what urgent care is, it’s important to start at the beginning, when it was developed. There is a story. It is a gripping one.
American healthcare has long been expensive. And in the 1980’s, Americans were generally bound between two options: the emergency room and the primary care physician. The specialist, a widely used term to denote someone in a specific field, was seen as similar to the primary care physician in terms of method. An appointment. A visit. A follow-up.
This forced Americans into two options: Pay an expensive amount for a high amount of care or pay a much smaller amount for a much lower level of care. This seemed, to many, to be an unnecessary dichotomy. Why should someone be forced into either level of care? Maybe they had an injury that was too large for the PCP and too small for the ER.
There needed to be other options.
The urgent care center was developed in the 1980’s and slowly spread across the United States. It’s pretense was simple: An American should be able to get the care they needed without being shuttled between two extremes. It attracted few people at first but gained in popularity. Now, urgent care centers see 3 million patients per week.
The urgent care center added a third option to the now false dichotomy of the primary care physician and the emergency room. At an urgent care center, patients were able to be seen between longer AM and PM hours than the primary care physician and with no appointment. That meant no calling to see if a slot was available. That meant no waiting a day.
It made sense. Taken from the ER, this practice enabled people to get the help they needed, when they needed it. The possibilities were endless. If a person broke their arm. If a person’s bronchitis flared up. If a person had a deep laceration. People could get the help when they needed it, without waiting for an appointment.
But why not go to the ER, you might ask? Good question.
The emergency room has the same option for patients: no need to call ahead. Just walk-in, fill out a form, and take a seat. The ER thrives on triage. The worst cases go first. But while the ER has the best diagnostic equipment and some of the best trained doctors, the ER is expensive. Exorbitantly expensive. Thousands of dollars. An urgent care is not.
But trapped between the PCP and the ER, American patients had no choice if they had urgent issue. They had to go to the emergency room. That meant hundreds (back in the 1980’s) and thousands of dollars today. Healthcare in America is expensive. That could take out a chunk of rent, or a sizable mortgage for the house. And all for an issue that was urgent.
And the key: not serious. Or not serious enough.
Urgent care centers handle cases that are serious but not life-threatening. They have sophisticated diagnostic equipment and the ability to have a mid-level providers in some cases to look at the illness. More and more physicians are being trained in urgent care medicine. It’s becoming a more in-demand field.
Some statistics about illnesses and ailments that urgent care centers treat:
- 25,000 Americans suffer from an ankle sprain each day.
- Four out of five urgent care centers provide fracture care.
- Dizziness is the second most common complaint heard in doctor’s offices, and will occur in 70% of the nation’s population at sometime in their lives.
- Every year, Americans get approximately 1 billion colds.
Sometimes an urgent care center is in a hospital. In this case, an urgent care center could be located in the closest hospital to me. Answering the question of ‘Where is the closest hospital to me’ can give the closest facility that provides immediate care. ‘The closest hospital to me’ used as a term can find the best location for treatment.
In fact, ‘the closest hospital to me’ might give search results of ‘urgent care services near me’ as they are very similar. The local hospital is a good option. So is urgent care.