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Many Americans are finding that urgent care centers are able to provide them with a robust range of services usually at a lower cost than an Emergency Room visit and with more expediency than scheduling a appointment with a local doctor’s office. The vital question is, which symptoms constitute an urgent care visit and which symptoms should be treated in a hospital ER facility.

What are Urgent Care Centers?
For those who are not aware of the urgent care movement, it has been in existence in the United States for over forty years. There are approximately 6800 urgent care centers around the country with approximately 20,000 local doctors on staff. Each week about 3 million Americans visit an urgent care center.

What Ailments Do Urgent Cares Typically Treat?

Urgent Care centers are staffed by a wide range of capable health professionals, including nurses, nurse practitioners and local doctors. In fact, over 65% of urgent cares have at least one physician always on staff. This variety of expertise means that, despite the name, urgent care centers can treat more then conditions which can be considered urgent. Most provide routine medical care such as physicals, STD testing, vaccinations and flu shots. According to a 2012 The most common diagnosis in urgent care centers was for upper respiratory infections, and the most common procedure was getting wounds mended.

When to Go to Urgent Care

Urgent care centers have several advantages over visting an ER or a local doctors office. Wait times are usually shorter at urgent care centers when compared to ERs. Over half of urgent care patients are seen by a health professional within 15 minutes. When compared to a primary care provider, urgent cares have longer hours of operation. With this in mind here is a list of ailments that can generally be treated at an urgent care.

  • Sprains and Strains
  • Mild to Moderate Cuts
  • Flu or Colds
  • Mild to Moderate Broken Bones
  • Mild to Moderate Breathing Problems
  • Skin Rashes or Irritation
  • Nearly 20% of visitors to ERs in 2010 could have sought treatment at an urgent care for their symptoms. When comparing the cost, urgent care visits typically cost ten times less than the average ER visit.

    When to Go to an Emergency Room
    Although many ailments can be treated at urgent care centers, it is not appropriate to go to an urgent care with any of the below symptoms, many of which require the technology and expertise of a hospital.

  • Signs of Heart Attack
  • Possible Pregnancy Complications
  • Signs of Stroke
  • Severe Wounds
  • Poisoning
  • Severe Chest Pain
  • Seizures
  • Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list. As a general rule any condition which is considered immediate and life threatening should be addressed at an ER. For conditions that are medically pressing, but not necessarily at matter of life or death an urgent care center can be an option. As always, when in doubt, veer on the side of caution, it can be the difference between life and death.