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When To Use Urgent Care Clinics

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Faced with a medical problem, many people opt for the emergency room or they contact their primary physician. But in today’s Health Checkup, we look at when to use a third option: urgent care centers. Sam Baker talked with Dr. Sarah Holder, medical director of the Quick Care Clinic at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas. 

Dr. Holder: If it isn’t a life-threatening emergency, you want to call 911 and go to the emergency room. But when you have an urgent problem – an ache, a pain, a sore throat, a cough –  I would call the primary care physician first. See if you’re able to get in, if they can accommodate you in a reasonable amount of time. Also, if your primary care doctor is closed on the evenings or the weekends, then urgent care is always an option.

Baker: Is it always best if you decide on an urgent care clinic to stay in touch with your primary care physician either beforehand or after the visit?

Dr.  Holder: That’s always a great idea. Sometimes your primary care physician will direct you to an urgent care clinic, but if they don’t and you do go to an urgent care facility, it’s always best to call your primary physician afterwards so they know what you were seen for and what they treated you with.

Baker: What level of quality in terms of service do we find at an urgent care clinic?

Dr. Holder: Most urgent care clinics are staffed by physicians and nurse practitioner and PAs that the physicians oversee.

Baker: So it’s comparable to what you’d find primary with a care physician or an ER?

Dr. Holder: Yes. But in terms of having that continuity and that relationship with you that your primary care clinic does, the urgent care clinic doesn’t offer that. Your primary care doctor is the person you have a relationship with to treat your chronic medical problems and your preventative medicine needs.

Baker: Are there regulations though for what an urgent care clinic can treat and what it can’t?

Dr. Holder: Not so much regulations, just based on each facility and what they have to offer. Some facilities are based in a hospital, some are separate buildings. Some facilities will be able to offer limited imaging, just in terms of X-rays, minor lab work, things like urine tests, flu tests, strep tests. Some do offer a little more in terms of blood work but generally they have about the same services to offer.

Baker: There are urgent care clinics, but there’s also what some people refer to as retail clinics?

Dr. Holder: Usually the retail clinics are housed in pharmacies or things like that and they’re usually staffed by a nurse practitioner. They’re mostly for coughs, colds, sore throats. They don’t offer the same range of services as an urgent care clinic would.

Baker: How should you go about choosing an urgent care facility?

Dr. Holder: Sometimes your primary care physician will have certain facilities they might recommend. You can also talk to friends and family members who’ve gone to an urgent care facility and had a good experience. There are always resources available on the internet to research and look up.

Baker: Time is of essence when an injury actually happens. But until or unless one occurs, is it ever too early to start thinking about what urgent care clinic you might want to visit should that need arise?

Dr. Holder: It’s probably a good idea to know what’s around, what’s available, and what clinics or urgent care facilities take your insurance, what their fees are and things like that. So I think it’s always a good idea to be informed.

Dr. Sarah Holder is medical director of the QuickCare Clinic at Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas. 

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