If you live near an urgent care center, you may visit one to get treatment for a urinary tract infection, ear infection, upper respiratory infection, heartburn, skin rash, and other minor health concerns. Urgent care centers are useful when medical problems occur outside of your regular doctor’s hours of operation, or when your doctor is booked and you can’t make an appointment.
These facilities staff doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners who are qualified to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. And oftentimes, urgent care is less expensive than a trip to the emergency room.
These centers are located in just about every city, but some people may underestimate the types of services they offer.
Here’s a list of services available at urgent care centers to consider the next time you need medical care.
1. Treatment for injuries
If you get hurt, an urgent care facility may be able to help you. Some people might think the emergency room is the best place to go. But urgent care centers also have doctors available to treat certain injuries.
These centers can help with minor cuts (lacerations), dislocations, fractures, and sprains. Many urgent care centers have the equipment to take X-rays so that doctors can determine the severity of your injury.
Urgent care centers vary in their ability to handle different types of injuries, so calling first to ask about their services is a good idea. Of course, if you have a significant open wound or the pain is severe and constant, the emergency room is a better choice.
Depending on the injury, you’ll have to follow up with your primary doctor for further care.
2. Drug and alcohol screenings
If your employer requires drug and alcohol screening, or if you need a drug or alcohol test for another reason, you don’t have to make an appointment with your regular doctor or visit a drug testing lab. Many urgent care facilities offer drug and alcohol screenings. These usually include a blood test or urine test. A saliva test or a hair test may also be available. Check with your employer or other agency to see which type of test they will accept.
The turnaround time for results varies. Contact your local urgent care center to inquire about the different types of screenings available, and for information on when you can expect results.
3. STD testing
If you think you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or if you haven’t been tested in a while, getting tested can provide peace of mind and protect your partner from exposure. But you may feel uncomfortable going to your regular doctor for testing.
If you prefer to be tested outside of your primary doctor’s office, go to a nearby urgent care center for testing. STD screenings may include testing for:
- HIV or AIDS
- genital herpes (if you have symptoms)
- human papillomavirus (HPV)
Regular testing is important even if you don’t have symptoms. Some STDs are asymptomatic in the early stages, but it’s still possible to pass the disease to someone else. You can usually get results in one to two days.
4. Physicals and routine health screenings
You can make an appointment with your doctor when you need a physical or other routine health screenings. But depending on the number of patients under your doctor’s care, it could take days or weeks to get a wellness check appointment.
If you need a physical sooner than your doctor is able to accommodate you, an urgent care center can perform your physical and other screenings like sports physicals, gynecological exams, and breast examinations.
These facilities can also conduct lab work by checking your cholesterol and testing for anemia and diabetes, along with other tests as indicated. Urgent care can also confirm the results of a home pregnancy test if you don’t want to involve your regular doctor.
If you’re getting an annual physical at an urgent care center, ask about updating your immunizations. Those offered at urgent care include the tetanus shot and the flu shot. You can also get vaccinations for the measles, mumps, rubella, and the hepatitis virus. These vaccines offer protection from potentially serious viral and bacterial infections.
6. EKG testing
If you’ve had bouts of dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, or chest pain, your regular doctor may order an electrocardiogram (EKG) for you. This test records the electrical activity of your heart and helps your doctor determine (or rule out) some of the causes of heart-related symptoms.
Your doctor may not have an EKG machine in their office, so you may be referred to a hospital or another outpatient facility for testing. Rather than going to a hospital, you can contact an urgent care center covered by your health insurance plan to see if the facility offers this test. Find out if the urgent care center will send the EKG results to your doctor or if they will give them to you to take to your doctor’s office.
Although some urgent care centers offer EKG testing, don’t go to urgent care if you have sudden shortness of breath or severe chest pain. This can be an indication of a serious medical problem that requires treatment at a hospital emergency room. Call an ambulance for immediate medical care.
Urgent care centers can potentially save time and money, and many facilities are capable of treating minor health concerns, as well as offering a multitude of health services.
Having a primary care provider is still important, particularly if you have ongoing health concerns that require regular care. If you use an urgent care center, have them communicate results of your visit to your regular doctor or bring all of your test results and paperwork to your follow-up appointment at your doctor’s office.
Services vary by center. So before jumping in your car and driving to a facility, call to inquire about available testings, screenings, and vaccinations.
The amount you’ll spend out of pocket depends on your health insurance plan and the nature of your illness.