Urgent care clinics are becoming more popular every day. People use them because they’re convenient, affordable, and fast. You don’t need an appointment, and average wait times are lower than other medical facilities (except for the ER, of course).
But before you make a break for the nearest urgent care clinic, there are a few things you should know. Not understanding what an urgent care clinic actually is, or having an unrealistic set of expectations, can lead to a frustrating experience. Consider the following mistakes people often make when going to an urgent care clinic.
1. Expecting zero wait time
One of the reasons urgent care clinics are so popular is that you can visit without an appointment and be seen right away. This is, in large part, true—however, whether or not there’s a wait (and how long it is) depends on the clinic, the time of day, and whether there happen to be a lot of people seeking medical attention at the same time. Mornings and late afternoons tend to be the busiest as people try to fit an urgent care visit before or after their daily obligations. Saturdays are also busier. While you can still expect to be seen faster than you would at other types of medical facilities, there may indeed be a wait involved.
2. Expecting to be seen by an MD
Urgent care clinics are more affordable and accessible because their staff includes nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs). Clinics will often have an MD on staff who will supervise in addition to seeing patients; but if talking to an MD is an absolute requirement, your visit to urgent care could end in disappointment. What many people don’t realize is that an NP or a PA is very highly trained and authorized to give advanced medical care. Their abilities include diagnostics, treatment of a broad scope of injuries and illness, prescriptions, and even more advanced medical procedures. You should have total confidence in seeing an NP or PA during your urgent care visit.
3. Not checking prices
It’s easy to assume that all urgent care centers are more or less the same, and charge the same amount. But remember: These are private businesses that can set their own price structures. It pays to make absolutely sure that a given urgent care center is an “in network provider” (as opposed to an “out of network provider”) for your health insurance plan. If you need to visit a center that’s out of network, or if you don’t have health insurance, be sure to clarify pricing information up front to avoid unpleasant surprises later.
4. Accidentally visiting an ER
Whoops! Some “urgent care centers” are actually emergency rooms connected with hospitals. This doesn’t seem fair, but it can happen. The words being used to describe medical facilities can be confusing, and the term “urgent care” is not yet regulated as it should be.
The bottom line is, it’s always good to make sure—either ahead of time by phone, or in person when you check in—that the place you’re visiting is a true urgent care facility and not an ER, and that all services will be billed as urgent care.
Make your urgent care visit a good one!
By understanding a few common mistakes, you can make sure that your next visit to urgent are is smooth sailing. It’s certainly possible to take advantage of this economical, effective path to medical treatment without any problems.
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