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Seven secrets you should know about urgent care

Does your child waking up with a fever mean a visit to the emergency department? You cut your finger while making dinner—is a trip to urgent care on the menu for dessert? Making the correct call about where to go for care can sometimes be tricky. So here are seven facts about urgent care that might surprise you.  

1. You still need your primary care provider.
While urgent care can care for you quickly when you are sick or injured, it doesn't replace your primary care provider. Having a provider you see regularly ensures that someone is looking out for your future health, like making sure your immunizations are current, preventing or controlling chronic conditions, managing medications and discussing health screenings, like mammograms. Urgent care providers can help you establish care with a primary care provider or schedule a follow-up visit, sharing the electronic record of your visit. This assures your provider is already familiar with your test results and treatments. 

2. Go mid-day, whenever possible.
You can't control when you get sick or injured, but if you can, try to head to urgent care late morning or early afternoon. Wait times are often longer in the early morning and around dinnertime since most people tend to go to urgent care right before or after work or school.

3. Limit calling ahead.
Many health plans have nurse lines you can call if you are unsure about an injury or illness; however, it is difficult to tell over the phone exactly what is wrong. If you call the urgent care, you'll likely be told to come in for an assessment and given our best estimate of how long you'll have to wait to be seen. A nurse can quickly assess you and notify a physician if your condition is potentially serious.

4. There are some emergencies urgent care can't handle.
A hospital's emergency department (ED) has more resources and specialists at its disposal to treat severe problems. Every minute counts in instances like heart attack or stroke. Head to the nearest ED or call 911 if you have any signs or symptoms of a life-threatening condition: 

  • heart attack symptoms: chest pain, sweating, accompanying pain in your arm, neck or back
  • stroke symptoms: sudden weakness, change in vision or trouble talking
  • trouble breathing
  • sudden, severe pain
  • allergic reactions with swelling of the airways
  • head or back injuries
  • loss of consciousness
  • poisoning
  • bleeding or vomiting that won't stop
  • severe dehydration
  • drug overdose
  • major bone breaks, burns and cuts

5. You might be surprised by what urgent care can treat
You can head right to urgent care for sprains, fractures, burns, allergic reactions, frostbites and cuts. Urgent care has IV fluids and medications to treat dehydration, vomiting and migraines. They have EKG, lab and imaging equipment, and access to advance testing like ultrasound, CT or MRI scans. It's better to go straight to the emergency department in situations where you can see bone, cut a tendon or think you could lose a limb. Still, if you show up at urgent care with a really serious injury or illness, you won't be turned away. We will quickly get you to the right place if you require care beyond what we are equipped to handle. 

6. You may be seen by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.
This is a good thing. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants who work in urgent care are experienced in the problems frequently encountered in this setting. They can readily consult with a board-certified physician working alongside them if they need to. Often times we can see you when your regular primary care provider can't.   

7. Yes, you should go in case of the flu.
First, avoid the misery of the flu and protect yourself and others by getting a flu shot. If you do get the flu, you have a 48-hour window to get medication that can help you feel better faster and potentially prevent serious complications. Urgent cares can test for the flu, so it can be an option for you if your primary care provider isn't available.

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