The popularity of urgent care centers as the Goldilocks model of health care boomed in 2014. Since it’s not as expensive as the emergency room and doesn’t require the wait time of seeing a primary care physician, many people find urgent care to be “just right.” The problem is that a recent poll reveals that too many people are choosing urgent care when they really ought to go to the emergency room.
According to Forbes, an alarming 71% of emergency physicians reported in a recent poll that they have treated patients who first went to an urgent care center for treatment which was not equipped to treat them.
The poll was conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). According to their findings, 90% of emergency physicians say that patients are directed to emergency care centers because they opt to go to urgent care centers even though they need a higher level of care.
Additionally, more than half of emergency physicians think that urgent care centers market themselves as alternatives to emergency care. According to one doctor, that sends a dangerous message about public health.
“Urgent care centers don’t have the same equipment and staffing as an emergency department,” Dr. Michael Gerardi, MD, President of ACEP. “They treat minor illnesses and injuries, such as sprains and minor cuts requiring stitches. They don’t have the capabilities that emergency departments do for complex diagnoses and treatments.”
According to Urgent Care Center of America data, there are about 9,000 urgent care centers in the United States. Though they do not offer emergency care, they can treat non-life-threatening injuries, prescribe medications and offer treatment for illnesses like the flu.
Some urgent care centers also offer routine testing like drug and disease testing as well as X-ray services to diagnose bone breaks, sprains, and fractures.
Though public perception of urgent care centers is that they are a viable alternative to emergency care, this is not always the case. There are a number of different, valuable services that urgent care centers offer, but it’s up to the patient to make the right choice for their needs.