Urgent Care Centers are a dedicated department of a hospital or standalone clinics that cater to patients with urgent conditions that do not meet the threshold of an emergency. These primary care centers are staffed by family physicians, emergency medicine specialists, internists, pediatricians, radiologists, or locum tenens (freelancers) from a variety of specialties.
Urgent care centers are walk-in clinics where patients can have their concerns immediately addressed. However, urgent care centers must be differentiated from emergency rooms in that urgent care centers do not treat life-threatening or limb-threatening conditions requiring extensive and invasive medical or surgical procedures. In addition, most urgent care centers operate only during extended business hours unlike emergency rooms which are open 24 hours a day. Urgent care centers have the basic diagnostic facilities like X-rays and blood tests but are not likely to have the more advanced diagnostic machines like CT scans or MRIs.
The conditions treated in urgent care centers are varied. Essentially, any immediate condition that can be treated in the ambulatory care setting can be managed in urgent centers. These can include abdominal pain, fever, diarrhea and minor injuries like abrasions, sprains, bruises, and minor lacerations. The serious, emergent and complicated conditions are not advisable to be brought to urgent care centers. These include:
- Conditions requiring invasive surgical interventions that are beyond the level of the skin or will require more than local anesthesia. For example, conditions necessitating major abdominal surgery may not be catered to by urgent care centers.
- Complicated medical conditions that require long-term treatment or admission. For example, a patient with diarrhea can be treated in urgent care centers provided that the patient is not dehydrated enough to require admission and hydration.
- Conditions that will require the use of advanced diagnostic modalities. For example, dizziness can be treated in urgent care centers, but if the cause of dizziness is suspected to be due to a stroke and will require a brain CT scan or MRI, this might not be best catered to by urgent care centers.
Urgent care centers are important clinics in that these centers lessen the load of patients in emergency care clinics. It is estimated that about one-fifth of patients brought to emergency care clinics can be adequately managed in urgent care centers.