You may find yourself in a situation where you need some medical care, but it’s not life-threatening and you don’t need an emergency room. Your doctor won’t be able to see you for a week or it’s after hours and your doctor’s office is closed. What do you do? You have options. One is to visit an urgent care center. Urgent care clinics are popping up throughout the country and you’re likely to find one in your own neighborhood. So too are retail clinics. So what’s the difference? Is one better than the other?
No matter where you live, you should always be aware of community options when it comes to medical and general health care services. Most of us are aware of the location of the nearest hospital and emergency room, but what about urgent care Brooklyn or retail clinics in your neighborhood?
Before considering urgent or retail clinical care over that of an emergency room, it’s important to know how to choose when it comes to care.
Where to go for what:
Go to the ER for:
- Anyone who is unconscious
- Suspected heart attack or stroke (chest pain, moderate to severe shortness of breath, weakness on one side of the body or extremities)
- Anyone dealing with uncontrolled bleeding
- An overdose
- Broken bones
- Trauma (blunt force, crushing, or a deep wound)
- Severe allergic reactions including anaphylactic shock
- Severe vomiting or diarrhea
Urgent care clinic services can generally provide non-life-threatening medical care. While some urgent care centers are equipped to deal with broken bones, severity of the fracture will determine whether you can be treated on site or sent to the nearest hospital. In most cases, an urgent care and a retail clinic can provide care for:
- Seasonal allergies, colds, flu
- Minor cuts, scrapes, and burns
- Minor sports injuries
An urgent care clinic or center is typically an independent facility, located in a standalone building or location.
Retail clinics are only capable of dealing with minor injuries or illnesses. The types of conditions that a retail clinic may treat include:
- ear infections
- cold, flu, allergies
- sinus infections
- minor skin irritations, rashes, or infections
- poison ivy
- sties or pinkeye
- minor bronchitis
Think of retail clinics as providing services for minor, generalized health concerns in situations where you don’t necessarily need a doctor, but some type of health professional oversight.
Urgent Care Center or Retail Clinic: Pros and Cons
Urgent Care Pro: Staff at an urgent care clinic is typically made up of one or more board-certified doctors, a physician’s assistant, licensed nurses, and nurse practitioners. Geographic location determines number of staff adequate for the area. In most cases, an urgent care clinic is equipped with capabilities to take x-rays, and may also have the capability to offer diagnostic testing and diagnoses. They can administer IVs and do treat minor to moderate trauma (non-life-threatening) including lacerations and minor fractures.
Retail Clinic Pro: Convenience. You generally don’t have to wait long for services. Services are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis. Retail clinics are beneficial for under insured and uninsured individuals but only for the treatment of non-life-threatening and relatively common medical situations and conditions. Some do offer routine physicals for school or work, as well as pregnancy tests and vaccinations, but not all.
Retail Clinic Pro: Location. A retail clinic is generally located in any retail store environments such as a supermarket, a retail store like Wal-Mart or Target and other ‘shopper-friendly’ locations.
Retail Clinic Con: A retail clinic generally doesn’t treat back pain, fractures, or sports injuries.
Urgent Care Pro: Urgent care centers offer extended hours and weekend services, but are not generally open 24 hours a day.
Retail Clinic Con: Walk in capability with no appointment needed, but hours may be restricted to the hours of the retail location.
Urgent Care Pro: An urgent care center must meet state specific requirements in regard to available equipment, adequate staffing, and level of care. An urgent care center can treat a person of any age, while retail clinics cannot treat individuals under 18 months old.
Retail clinic Con: No doc on site. Staffing at a retail clinic usually is usually comprised of nurse practitioners and a physician’s assistant and don’t generally have a physician on staff. They may have a physician who is on call to deal with questions or emergencies, but in the case of an emergency, a doctor will likely suggest that the patient be transported to the nearest emergency room.
You don’t have to be a medical expert to determine whether you should opt for the services of an urgent care center over a retail clinic. Determine need. If you’re looking for care that doesn’t require any diagnostics or the services of a doctor, then a retail clinic may suit your purposes. If not, or if an injury or illness may require more attention, then you might want to opt for urgent care. Urgent care centers do have the capability to treat moderate to serious injuries and illnesses and can help relieve the stress on some local emergency care services. In most locations, urgent care centers can provide x-ray and diagnostic, administer IVs, and prescribe medications.
What about costs?
Your health insurance policy should state whether they provide payment for a portion of costs when accessing an urgent care or retail clinic. Is your local urgent care center or retail clinic considered “out of network”? What about out-of-pocket costs? In most cases, urgent care centers and retail clinics will request payment at the time services are rendered. Payments, depending on geographic location, can range $50 to $150 or more depending on services needed. Be prepared. Call your local urgent care center or retail clinic and ask if they accept your health insurance.
Both urgent care and retail clinic accept cash and credit/debit card payments. Most will not take a check.
In regard to cost, urgent care centers may be more expensive than a retail clinic, but they’re a lot less expensive than your local emergency room. However, don’t take chances. If any illness or injury cannot be treated by an urgent care center, you will be referred to the emergency room. It pays to weigh the pros and cons of an urgent care center against a retail clinic and know which one to choose for specific situations.