Urgent care centers have revolutionized how parents access health care for themselves and their children.
According to the website of the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, urgent care centers provide treatment for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries that occur on a day-to-day basis. Appointments aren’t required and the centers are equipped to help the entire family, including children. Urgent care centers are generally open seven days a week and have day and evening hours.
How urgent care centers operate
At some urgent care centers, patients are seen by licensed physicians, while at others, patients may be seen by a certified family nurse practitioner or a physician assistant. Some urgent care centers may be affiliated with a hospital, while others are walk-in medical clinics inside retail health care centers such as CVS’s MinuteClinics, which also provide urgent care services.
When a urgent care center is affiliated with a hospital, there are generally “more resources for the patients who go there,” says Mary Ann Yehl, DO, director of urgent care at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, which has multiple locations in New Jersey. “Most hospitals/healthcare systems have a rigorous process to credential all providers, which adds peace of mind for the patients who are seen.”
Pros and cons of urgent care centers
Convenience is a main reason urgent care centers are so popular among patients compared to traditional doctor visits.
“We understand that families are busy and that sometimes your kids may come down with a sore throat after hours or on the weekend or may need a sports physical in order to start soccer practice tomorrow. That’s why our ability to offer a full medical team and convenient hours without an appointment is a huge benefit,” says Ellen Dietrick, spokesperson for MedExpress Urgent Care, which has more than 200 urgent care centers nationwide in states including PA, NJ and DE. “With most MedExpress patients in and out in less than an hour, our centers are a great option for those unscheduled, time-sensitive needs. We also value the importance of continuity of care, so we help to coordinate follow-up and specialty care with other health providers to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients.”
Urgent care centers also provide an “excellent quality of care for patients who need help with injuries and illnesses when most doctor’s offices are closed,” says Christine Stallkamp, MD, FAAFP, medical director of urgent care services at Pennsylvania’s Main Line Health.
“It’s important to understand that the urgent care center can be a convenient solution for medical care but not all medical care,” says Dr. Yehl, adding that urgent care centers have found their niche in the areas of coughs/colds, sprains/strains and lacerations, among other ailments.
However, if a medical condition requires a “higher level of care, you may need to go to the Emergency Room,” says Dr. Yehl. “Any life-threatening condition should be seen in the Emergency Room.”
“While urgent care centers do offer comprehensive and quality care, it’s important to remember that they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for a primary care or family doctor,” says Dr. Stallkamp. “If you visit the urgent care or the emergency department, you should always follow up with your physician. This way, if there are lingering symptoms, you can work together to develop a plan for long-term treatment. Just because you’re not in the emergency room does not mean you are getting a lesser quality of care.”
Cheryl Lynne Potter is a freelance writer from South Jersey.