Monday, February 24, 2014

Implementing 24-hour Urgent Care Centers is a win for everyone.

Everyone hates Emergency Rooms and it's no wonder--wait times are just too damn long and often times  people get sicker as they wait. In my city, there's generally an eight to ten hour wait for a non-life threatening condition. I have already told people I know, "I better be near death before you take me there."

Why would people go to the ER for a non-life threatening condition? I give you three reasons:
  1. No after-hours urgent care available.
  2. Urgent care available but cannot pay.
  3. No knowledge of the difference between the functions of urgent care and ER.

While Urgent Care Centers can treat non-emergency illnesses, most are not open twenty-four hours. In my city, if you're sick after 8 pm, you either deal with it till your doctor's office opens at 8 am the next morning or, if you're in enough pain, you trudge down to the ER in your pajamas at midnight and wait at least another eight hours to be treated. 
The inability to pay for regular doctor's office visits and urgent care sends millions to the ER every year for minor illnesses. ER waiting rooms are full of people who do not need emergency are but who cannot be seen anywhere else because they cannot afford it. These people can't go to Urgent Care because those facilities are not bound by law to treat them without the ability to pay. The good news is that for all its flaws, the Affordable Care Act may have solved this problem. Now that every American is required to have health insurance, the people who have normally gone to the ER can now go to the Urgent Care Center instead. Because this would increase the flow of traffic to the Urgent Care Centers, it makes more sense to have more of them open all-night.  

Finally, how do you decide which one to see? It's actually simpler than you think. (List compiled from several sources)

Emergency rooms: Catastrophic care (Life or limb threatening)
Head injury
Severe burns
Eye injuries
Chest pain, abdominal pain, or other sudden or severe pain
Deep wounds by gunshot, knife or other object
Strokes, symptoms that could be signs of a stroke like slurred speech, numbness
Coughing up or vomiting blood
Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
Heart attack
Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
Severe bleeding

Urgent Care Centers: Minor Medical Conditions (Non-life or non-limb threatening)
Colds, flu, coughs, sore throat
Urinary tract infection
Mild lacerations, cuts, bruises, burns and scrapes
Ear infections
Mild stomach aches
Allergic reactions
Broken bones
Animal bites

Of course, if you are not sure, always err on the side of caution and go to the ER but in most cases, we can tell by looking at this list. If you are able to distinguish, you could save yourself a lot of time and money.

I for one would be very interested to see the stats on cities of different sizes which have all-night urgent care and how they reduce ER waiting time and improve care.  I think studies should be done and results shared so that cities who do not yet have these twenty-four hour facilities could benefit. It's a win for everyone. Emergency rooms can concentrate on the more serious life threatening cases while patients who are ill but not seriously ill, who cannot wait to get an appointment with a doctor, can get efficient and inexpensive treatment at alternative facilities. I can't imagine anyone whose illness fits into the categories of urgent care would choose to go to the ER and wait twelve hours for treatment and pay ten times what they'd pay in the Urgent Care Center.

Also, my friend Deletta, who I shared this with earlier had an excellent suggestion. If there's an issue of not being able to properly afford and staff a stand-alone all-night facility, what if hospitals had both an ER and Urgent Care Center? The patient could be triaged immediately and sent to the appropriate facility for treatment. Teaching hospitals could staff the Urgent Care Center with student interns. The patients are treated, the med students learn. Everybody wins.

Of course it seems simple but it's probably much more complicated. The point though is that we can and should do this. If we're going to revamp the healthcare industry this is an important part of it. Call it a simple case of supply and demand. The demand for the all-night Urgent Care Centers is out there, now we just need to supply them.


  1. I think that we should have more 24 hour emergency care places. I know of one here in La Quinta CA that my friends have gone to a few times. It is good because it is cheaper than going to the ER for a minor burn or a broken bone.

  2. I agree that 24 hour urgent care centers are good for everyone. These should be available in all areas. They can be very helpful and provide people with the care they need right away.

  3. I wonder if hospitals welcome urgent care medical centres. Most businesses don't like people taking their customers. Hospitals that are overbooked might want to shed some patients and send them elsewhere.

  4. Awfully fast this website would be prominent amongst all the people, owing to its choosy content. Urgent Care

  5. Thanks for posting this. My town has not had an urgent care center put in yet and I strongly feel that we should. I am constantly frustrated when I have to take my child to the emergency room even when it is not an emergency. The town that is 30 minutes away just put one in and we've used it.

    Mika Clary @ U.S. HealthWorks, Sunnyvale

  6. I had been working in an emergency room in my town for several years. An urgent care center came in and so I switched over to them. It has been such a good addition to the town. And I think the hospital really appreciates the urgent center being there. It cuts down on a lot of wasted time and resources.

    Natalia Campos @ Primary Care Associates - Lake Otis