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Urgent Care

Urgent care centers offer ambulatory services as well as emergency care on a walk-in basis. Ambulatory services refer to all types of medical care provided in a clinical care setting on an out-patient basis.

Urgent care clinic services

An urgent care center is available when you need medical care due to unforeseen circumstances. As a convenience factor, these centers often have extended hours, are open in the evening and on weekends and are located within city limits.

Maybe your child's medical condition worsened before the next appointment and he or she needs to be seen right away. One of your first questions may be, "Is this condition right for an urgent care facility or should I go straight to an emergency room?" If you or someone you know faces imminent danger because of an injury or life-threatening condition, you should call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room immediately.

An immediate care clinic treats patients who need immediate medical care for issues that aren't life-threatening. You can walk in during business hours and generally don't need an appointment in advance. If you feel like you can't wait until your doctor's office opens and need to be seen right away, an urgent care center is an alternative to an emergency room visit. Such visits should be utilized for emergencies only.

Diagnostic imaging that includes general X-ray services may be limited but is often offered at many facilities. The staff can get precise and quick results without having to send patients to the hospital radiology unit.

Phlebotomy services also may be offered in-house so that blood and cultures can be tested in a timely manner. In this way, results are available much faster than distributing specimens to an outside laboratory.

Signs of such illnesses as influenza, infection or upper respiratory distress are common reasons to visit an urgent care center. If your child is running a fever, coughing or showing signs of general malaise, an urgent care facility can diagnose your child and prescribe the appropriate antibiotics or medication. If you need stitches or have a deep wound, the urgent care staff should be able to care for you at their office.

Immediate care staff

Urgent care clinics often have at least one medical doctor on staff or on call. A physician's assistant or nurse practitioner will work under the supervision of a medical doctor but can diagnose and treat most minor medical issues. The nurse practitioner can consult with the on-call physician in order to make an accurate diagnosis, if needed.

Nursing staff, including registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, also may be on staff to help assist with patient evaluation and medical care. Registered nurses can write prescriptions, whereas a licensed practical nurse may not. Most prescriptions, especially those for controlled substances will need a medical doctor's approval before being written.

Medical assistants may assist the clinical care staff with office duties, injections, vital signs, diagnostic testing, patient evaluations and patient medical records.

For on-site services, a phlebotomist, X-ray technician and lab assistant also may be on staff to help with patient care and service. A phlebotomist is a trained medical professional who draws blood. A lab assistant collects urine specimens and evaluates slides for possible staph and strep infections, as well as communicable disease.

Benefits of immediate care

One of the biggest benefits of visiting an urgent care facility is that you often won't wait as long to see a doctor or nurse practitioner than at a hospital. You also don't need to schedule an appointment like you would for a visit to your family doctor. This allows you to get immediate treatment for your condition.

A visit to these facilities also offers a significant cost savings in comparison to an emergency room visit. Emergency room services can be pricey even if you have health insurance. An urgent care facility charges an average of 50 percent less for each visit and accepts most types of medical insurance. One drawback is you need to pay for services before you can see a doctor, which can be discouraging if you need to set up a payment plan or are unable to pay on the day of service.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are over 8,700 urgent care facilities in the United States. To find one near you, check Angie's List, where you can read member reviews of their experience with urgent care clinics.