Seeing a doctor becomes a priority when you’re in pain or sick and can’t treat yourself at home. But your regular doctor may be unavailable if you need to see them after hours or on the weekend, or if your doctor is booked with other patients.

Going to the emergency room is one option, but if your condition is not a serious medical emergency, urgent care could be a better choice. But misconceptions about these facilities could make you skeptical and question the quality of care you’ll receive.

Urgent care centers are located in just about every city and offer a variety of services. Here’s a look at a few common myths about urgent care.

Myth #1: An urgent care center is the same as an emergency room

Some people lump urgent care centers and emergency rooms into the same category. While both types of facilities can handle acute medical problems (those that suddenly occur), urgent care centers are only equipped to handle minor ailments that aren’t life-threatening.

These centers are fitting if you have strep throat, the common cold, the flu, a sprain, a burn, or another minor issue. Typically, urgent care centers provide the same level of care for acute issues as a regular doctor.

Myth #2: Urgent care centers don’t allow appointments

Urgent care centers are convenient because you can walk in and request care without an appointment. Even so, some clinics allow patients to make an appointment for certain types of services. This varies by center, so you’ll need to contact your closest urgent care clinic for information on making appointments.

Appointments can speed your wait time and help you see a provider within a reasonable time frame. If your local urgent care is a “walk-in only” facility, you may have the option of checking in online. This procedure doesn’t set an appointment, but it does put your name on the waiting list and reserves your spot in line.

Someone who walks into an urgent care clinic without checking in online might have to wait 30 minutes or longer. On the other hand, someone who takes a moment to check in online might only have to wait a couple of minutes upon arriving at the clinic.

Myth #3: Urgent care doesn’t provide quality care

Another misconception is that urgent care centers don’t offer the same quality care as going to your regular doctor or the emergency room for an urgent medical need. This isn’t true. Many urgent care centers are staffed with doctors who have their own practices.

When you visit an urgent care facility, you can expect to be seen by either a doctor, a nurse practitioner, or a physician assistant. All are qualified to care for a variety of medical conditions. Plus, these healthcare providers see and treat a variety of different illnesses regularly.

Myth #4: Urgent care is expensive

Some people assume that going to an urgent care center is as expensive as going to an emergency room. But urgent care tends to be cheaper. Depending on your health insurance plan, your policy may have a copay for urgent care that’s comparable or only slightly higher than the copay for your regular doctor.

Keep in mind that even if your insurance policy has a copay for urgent care, you may still be responsible for some expenses out of pocket. These include lab work and imaging tests. Before going to urgent care, go over your health insurance policy to ensure urgent care is covered. Also, search for centers that are covered under your plan (and are in network, if applicable).

Myth #5: Urgent care is only for after hours

Don’t assume that urgent care is only an option in the evenings or on the weekends when your doctor’s office is closed. There are no rules dictating when you can go to urgent care. If these same-day clinics are covered under your health insurance plan, you can visit an urgent care center at any time of the day or night. You might even prefer urgent care for a minor, acute problem if there’s a clinic close to your home or if it takes days to get an appointment with your regular doctor.

Myth #6: Urgent care is only for emergencies

Because these clinics have the word “urgent” in their titles, you may think you can only visit a center if you’re having a medical crisis. Urgent care centers are equipped to provide a variety of medical services. Not only is urgent care useful when you’re sick or in pain, you can also visit a clinic if you need a drug or alcohol screening, a vaccination, a routine EKG, or some types of lab work. Contact your local urgent care center to inquire about available services.

Myth #7: Urgent care can replace a regular doctor

Urgent care centers staff doctors who are capable of caring for your immediate medical needs. Still, urgent care doesn’t replace a relationship with a regular doctor.

It can be difficult to develop an ongoing relationship with doctors at an urgent care clinic. Some of these doctors have their own practices and only work at the urgent care center a few days out of the week. Each time you visit the clinic, you might be seen by a different doctor. A regular doctor, however, can maintain a record of your medical history, monitor your health, and offer recommendations to ensure you receive the best possible care. This is particularly important if you have recurring health concerns or take medication to manage an ongoing condition.

If you do seek services at an urgent care center, be sure to follow up with your regular doctor and give them copies of the records of your visit. Better yet, choose an urgent care center that communicates directly with your doctor’s office, if possible.

The takeaway

Urgent care centers can provide valuable services, and the care you’ll receive is fast and affordable. Some people don’t take full advantage of these same-day clinics because of common misconceptions. Knowing the truth about them can help you feel comfortable visiting one when you face a minor emergency.