Published on August 15, 2019

When you should seek out urgent care

By Rick Strickroot, MD
Urgent care physician

Not sure if you have an infection? Wonder what to do about a swollen ankle? Prefer to get a sore throat swabbed tonight?

Fortunately, medical care for issues like these is readily available. Urgent care is a convenient option if you need medical care and your physician is not available -- and you can  make a reservation online  before you go.

An extension of primary care doctors, urgent care providers can diagnose, treat and manage minor injuries and illnesses on a walk-in basis. No appointment is necessary.

Many urgent care locations have both daytime and evening hours, and are open on weekends and most holidays. Many also have radiology and laboratory services on site. They typically accept a variety of insurance plans, and new patients are welcome.

It’s not always clear whether you should visit an urgent care clinic or an emergency department when timely care is needed. If you’re not sure which to choose, consider the following examples.

Urgent care is ideal for many minor medical concerns, the most common being:

  • Allergies and asthma
  • Broken fingers and toes
  • Bronchitis
  • Cuts
  • Earaches
  • Fevers
  • Infections
  • Rashes
  • Sore throats and persistent coughs
  • Sprains and strains
  • Vomiting, diarrhea

It is best to call 911 or visit an emergency department for:

  • Broken bones
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
  • Confusion or changes in mental state or vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • A drug overdose or poisoning
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Unusual abdominal pain

Like emergency physicians, urgent care providers diagnose and treat medical conditions on site as soon as possible, providing relief as well as instructions for follow-up care. Providers can even access and update the electronic health records of ProHealth patients for seamless care during and after an urgent care visit. Urgent care can be less expensive than going to an emergency department, too.

If you do arrive at an urgent care location and need emergency care, the urgent care professionals will work directly with local emergency service providers and the nearest emergency department to quickly coordinate your transfer and share information about your health care needs.

Urgent care should not replace an ongoing health care relationship with a personal physician who can help monitor and manage your health. It does, however, provide efficient and convenient care when you need it.

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