There are an estimated 9,300 walk-in, stand alone urgent care centers in the United States today, and more are opening every year. However, just because they offer a wide variety of treatment options, that doesn't mean you should be there for every medical emergency.
While it's important to make sure you're receiving proper care in any medical situation, it's just as important to know whether an emergency room or urgent care clinic is the right choice for you.
Do You Have a Broken Bone?
In most cases, an urgent care center can treat a broken bone. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For instance, if your bone has been shattered or you suffer an open fracture, meaning the bone breaks through your skin, you should visit an emergency room immediately. These types of fractures are much more serious, require immediate care, and sometimes even immediate surgery.
Do You Have a Cold?
If you're experiencing symptoms of a cold or the flu at a time when your primary care physician can't see you, it's definitely time to go to an urgent care center. Urgent care centers have an average of seven treatment/exam rooms, and the physicians working are equipped to handle these symptoms. Many can even provide intravenous fluids when needed. However, if you're experiencing a severe case of the flu that could be life-threatening, you should seek out emergency services.
Have You Sustained a Head Injury?
If you've received a simple bump or cut on your head, visiting urgent care is fine. However, any severe head injuries that came as a result of falls, sports injuries, or any other kind of accident need to be treated by emergency services. Urgent care centers can handle minor injuries, but a hospital is equipped to handle possibly life-threatening injuries and severe concussions.
Do You Have Allergies?
If you're suffering from itchy eyes and a runny nose during peak allergy season, an urgent care center is the place to be. While they can't prescribe the serious medication that your primary care physician handles, they can provide simple medications for minor allergies. That being said, if you're experiencing a severe allergic reaction, you should always visit the emergency room right away. Food allergies can be especially life-threatening and require treatment as soon as possible.
Nearly 97% of urgent care centers are open seven days a week, which makes them a great option if you can't get to your doctor. Just remember: urgent care centers aren't a replacement for your primary care physician or emergency services!