ER versus Urgent Care – By: Mary Ellen Pratt, FACHE, CEO
Urgent care, a long component of the health care system, is getting renewed interest as convenience, access and affordability continue to drive decisions. Urgent care helps patients avoid unnecessary ER visits and readmissions and are open after primary care physician offices close, providing easy access to quality healthcare.
In response to this demand, St. James Parish Hospital is opening an Urgent Care Clinic. With greater choices—primary care clinics, emergency rooms, urgent care clinics—many patients may be unsure where to seek help when in need. There are many differences between primary care, urgent care and emergency care and it’s important to know what to choose and why. The wrong setting could potentially lead to extremely long and unnecessary wait times amongst other inconveniences and frustrations for patients. Most importantly, choosing the right care can help you avoid wasting time in potentially life-threatening situations.
Urgent care clinics are setup to assist patients with an illness or injury that does not appear to be life-threatening. They are not a substitute for emergency care. In general, an emergency condition is one that can permanently impair or endanger the life of an individual. Below are some tips about Urgent Care that can help you decide if this setting is best.
You still need your doc.
Although urgent care clinics can generally take care of anything a doctor’s office can, they don’t replace your primary care physician. Urgent care takes care of you when you’re sick and your physician’s office isn’t open. Seeing a doctor regularly will ensure that someone is looking out for your health in the future. It’s your doctor’s office that will watch out for signs of diabetes or track your blood pressure, watch your weight, make sure your immunizations are up to date, and discuss appropriate screenings, like mammograms.
They don’t want to refill your prescriptions.
An urgent care clinic is not the place to request a refill on a diabetes or pain medication. Chronic conditions are best monitored by primary care doctors because they are the caregivers who will see your treatment through and help you with lifestyle changes to control the condition.
They aren’t a substitute for the ER.
Urgent care clinics will stabilize you, but hospital Emergency Departments have more resources and specialists at their disposal to treat severe problems. Go to the ER if you have any of the following: chest pain, difficulty breathing, severe abdominal pain, severe bleeding or head trauma, poisoning or suspected overdose, seizure or loss of consciousness, sudden loss of vision or blurred vision, sudden weakness or tingling, severe headache and/or confusion.
You may be seen by a nurse practitioner.
And, that’s a very good thing. The fact that urgent care centers are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants who see and treat patients allows for greater access to healthcare for the public—meaning they’ll be able to see you when your own doctor can’t. Urgent care clinics are overseen by board-certified physicians who are on duty at all times supervising the caregivers. Physicians will be called in to examine more serious conditions or symptoms.
The popularity of after-hours clinics and urgent care facilities has grown due to lower cost and higher efficiency. These previously novel concepts are becoming a necessity in today’s world.
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