They’re popping up everywhere, and many of us likely have been to one: Urgent care centers that promise to take care of your illness or injury when you can’t get in to see your regular doctor.
But how do you choose the right one for your needs? Are they all about the same?
Urgent care is designed for the patient who needs to be seen quickly, often outside normal business hours, but whose symptoms are not life threatening.
Symptoms such as those resulting from colds and flus, rashes or skin conditions, abdominal pain, allergic reactions, fractures, animal or insect bites, cuts, and objects stuck in ears or noses all can be taken care of at an urgent care, saving many families trips to the emergency room.
They tend to offer convenient and extended hours, don’t require appointments and accept most insurance plans.
“Urgent cares are an important part of a healthy community,” said Dr. Rick Swearingen, medical director at Dignity Health Urgent Care in Ahwatukee Foothills.
“They fill the gap between a regular family doctor and sitting in an emergency room for something not so serious.”
Most urgent cares say they are staffed by board certified medical professionals—but there’s often more to the story. In some cases you will be seen by registered nurses and actual physicians, while others employ only nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
While NPs and PAs are qualified to diagnose and treat many of the types of illnesses or injuries presented by most urgent care patients, if you prefer someone with additional training and certification, look for an urgent care that has doctors on-site.
In short, most urgent cares offer pretty much the same services and care. But a handful have come up with a twist that makes them unique and sets them apart from the rest.
Good Night Pediatrics, for example, is open when all the other urgent cares are not, giving parents of newborns to adolescents (to age 18) the urgent care option when they might otherwise end up spending a night in the emergency room.
Open 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily, including holidays, pediatricians at Good Night Pediatrics treat common illnesses and injuries with equipment and supplies designed just for the young patient.
Sometimes urgent cares rival emergency rooms when it comes to delays in the waiting room.
But one group of care centers has a service that allows you to wait in the comfort of your own home until the doctor is ready to see you. At Dignity Health Urgent Cares in Ahwatukee, Gilbert, Maricopa and Queen Creek, their Call Ahead Care program allows you to call in, give some basic information over the phone, and put have your name placed on the waiting list.
The triage nurse will give you an approximate wait time, then call you back when your time is coming up to be seen by the doctor.
Many urgent cares are equipped to provide adult and pediatric physicals, such as sports or school physicals and pre-employment physicals.
But only Urgent Care Extra offers sports physicals for $20 with the promise of a $5 donation back to the school of your choice.
Dignity Health Urgent Cares are affiliated with Chandler Regional and Mercy Gilbert Medical Centers. If patients are diagnosed with something more serious than what can be treated at an urgent care, staff members arrange for a transfer to one of Dignity Health’s emergency rooms, where your urgent care co-pay will be applied to your ER co-pay, and your ER wait time will start when you arrive at the location.
Finally, say medical experts: With so many options when it comes to choosing an urgent care, the time to choose one is before you need one. It’s worth doing a little research to find an urgent care that’s not only close to home, but one that also will best meet your needs if and when that moment occurs.