It’s a Friday night and your sinus infection has gone past the point of treating it with saline solution. Or it’s 3:00 a.m. and your newborn has a high fever that’s starting to alarm you. Or possibly your fiancé rolled his ankle playing kickball and just wants to double-check that he didn’t break a bone. Whatever the cause, a trip to an urgent care center is likely on your mind.
For the State of Care Report, Healthline asked 1,329 Americans from across the country about their thoughts on the patient care landscape and particular healthcare services. Just over one-third of Americans (41 percent) have visited an urgent care center within the past year. And millennials — the group that’s also more likely to use public libraries — are more likely to have visited an urgent care center instead of an emergency room or a doctor compared to baby boomers (41 percent versus 34 percent).
Why are people attracted to urgent care?
The reason why more and more individuals are going to urgent care centers can’t be pinpointed to one reason. It’s a number of factors (well, really three) that are responsible for this surge.
Another factor is the ease of scheduling: You can walk in and see a provider right on the spot without making an appointment. This is a huge plus considering that the time to schedule an appointment has increased upward of 30 percent since 2014 according to a 2017 study.
Third is cost: Out of those surveyed, millennials were twice as likely as Gen X or boomers (42 percent vs. 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively) to choose urgent care over traditional medical channels such as doctor or hospital visits for cost savings. The average cost of an urgent care visit for the most common conditions is $155.
These three factors aside, there’s one big disadvantage: Urgent care facilities received the lowest ranking for quality across all generations. When asked about the quality of care they received, 59 percent of respondents ranked urgent care as good, compared to a 79 percent ranking for a doctor or specialist. Hospital care was considered good by 65 percent of those surveyed. This perception could be the result of a larger communication issue.
“Patients are more comfortable communicating their needs, experiences, and preferences to someone they’ve known for some time,” says Malcolm Thaler, MD, a specialist in internal medicine for One Medical.
This is a problem. And while Healthline can’t exactly change how urgent care centers operate, we can show you ways YOU can prepare for your next visit to make sure you receive the most beneficial care possible.
Read on for seven tips to making your urgent care visit a little bit better.
Tip 1: Find a center
This seems simple enough, but locating the closest urgent care centers now can take the hassle of trying to find one when you need to go. A quick Google search should help you narrow down your choices. But don’t just find one and call it quits.
First, locate the centers closest to your home, your work, and even your kids’ schools. Having multiple options is important. Second, enter the centers’ locations into your cellphone, or keep a list in your wallet, your car, your child’s backpack, and anywhere else that you can think of. Having this info handy is necessary during times of need.
Tip 2: Know your insurance policy
We get it: Health insurance can be confusing. Really confusing. But knowing what your plan does covers —and doesn’t — means that you have less of a chance to be surprised by an unexpected bill after a visit.
As far as urgent care centers are concerned, they may or may not be covered. Take a look at your coverage plan, and if you’re still unsure, call the urgent care centers that you put on your “go-to” list. You may be expected to pay a copayment or deductible.
These first two tips take time, so doing your homework before the deadline can help ease your mind.
Tip 3: Ask yourself, ‘Why do I need to go?’
Whether you’re asking yourself this question or you’re asking a loved one, answering the “why” can help put the visit in perspective. In general, if the condition isn’t life-threatening (for example, the fever is stable, the bleeding has stopped, or the bone isn’t broken), an urgent care visit is recommended as opposed to an emergency room visit.
According to the Urgent Care Association of America, urgent care centers “treat minor or acutely rising medical conditions that patients feel require immediate medical attention but that are not medical emergencies.”
At the same time, your primary care provider is often the best place to start, which leads to the next tip.
Tip 4: Call your healthcare provider
Unless it’s the middle of the night and you’re in dire need of professional medical help, call your healthcare provider’s office. Even if you aren’t able to speak with your primary care doctor, the medical staff may be able to steer you in the right direction.
Ask when the next possible appointment is, if they think you can wait until then, or if you should see someone at an urgent care center right now instead.
Of course, talking to office staff isn’t the same thing as talking to a medical professional. So if you’re worried, go ahead and visit the urgent care center. At the very least, it will ease your mind.
Tip 5: Don’t go alone
So you’ve made up your mind and you’re going to an urgent care center. Now ask someone to go with you. Chances are, you’re already a bit frazzled. Having a significant other, family member, friend, or even a close neighbor to go with you could be helpful.
Ask them to drive you, if appropriate, or at the very least come along for the visit. They’ll be able to provide some reassurance and comfort while you wait. And unless you want them in the patient room with you, they can stay in the waiting room.
Tip 6: Bring your records
One of the biggest disadvantages of urgent care is that you don’t know exactly who you’ll be seeing. Again, you’re going to an urgent care center because it’s convenient, not because you have a particular doctor you want to see.
That being said, having a copy of your latest medical records or files on hand is important, says Thaler. These electronic or hard copy files can make a difference in the information that the urgent care professional provides you.
Here are some items that you’ll definitely want to bring:
- list of all your current medications, including over-the-counter supplements or pills you’ve taken for pain management
- any allergies you have
- list of your current medical conditions
- list of recent medical procedures, including dental procedures
- names and contact information of your primary care doctor
- insurance coverage information (see tip 2)
Tip 6: Write it down
You’ve likely heard that writing things down can help jog your memory, but it can also help you keep your thoughts organized. Going to a new healthcare facility can be overwhelming. The last thing that you want to do is to leave without feeling like you got what you came for.
Take a few minutes before you head over to urgent care to think about and jot down your questions. These can include the following:
- Why am I feeling this way?
- How can I get better quickly?
- Are there any home treatments that you recommend?
- When can I expect to feel like myself again?
Writing your points down “can save time and increases the chances that you will not leave out anything essential,” says Thaler. Studies have also shown that putting ink to paper (as opposed to digital note-taking) can be more beneficial. But again, the important thing is to record your thoughts somewhere.
Tip 7: Follow through and follow up
Getting the most out of your urgent care visit doesn’t end when your appointment is over. Now’s the time to actually follow the medical professional’s instructions thoroughly. It’s also a good idea to follow up with your primary care provider and let them know that you went to an urgent care center. They can make sure your problem is resolved as expected and make a note of it in your medical history.
As going to urgent care facilities becomes a more popular option in the healthcare landscape, it will be increasingly important to prepare ahead to get the most out of a visit. Following these seven tips can mean the difference between feeling like an anonymous number in the system to getting the answers and remedies you need to feel better faster.