You cut your hand; you've got a fever and don't know if it's the flu; you tripped and your elbow is feeling funky. Should you make a doctor's appointment? Head to the ER? Or go to urgent care?
Often the latter choice is the best one. "Urgent care centers are primarily used to treat patients who have an injury or illness that requires immediate care but isn't serious enough to warrant a visit to a hospital emergency room," says David Kim, MD, facility medical director of Memorial Care Medical Group in Long Beach, California. In other words: non life-threatening. But knowing whether urgent care is your best bet isn't always that black and white. To help you figure it out (and optimize your care once you're there), we rounded up 11 need-to-know secrets from urgent care workers.
1. You still need your doc.
Although urgent care can generally take care of anything a doctor's office can, "we don't replace your primary care physician," says Sean McNeeley, MD, medical director for University Hospitals Urgent Care in the Cleveland area. "Urgent care takes care of you when you're sick—having a regular doctor will ensure that someone is looking out for your health in the future," he says. It's your doctor's office that will watch out for signs of diabetes or track your blood pressure, watch your weight, make sure your immunizations are up to date, and discuss appropriate screenings, like mammograms.
2. They don't want to refill your prescriptions.
It seems easy—ask the doctor at the urgent care center for a refill on a diabetes or pain medication. It takes two seconds, right? Well, patients come in all the time with that request, and they're usually turned down. Chronic conditions are best monitored by primary care doctors because they're the ones who will see your treatment through and help you with lifestyle changes to control the condition. "If you don't have a primary care doc, you may be seen by one of our physicians or referred to a doctor to begin a long-term relationship that's so important for wellness," says Kim.
3. Whenever possible, you should go mid-day
First thing in the morning and dinnertime are usually busier in urgent care, since patients come in before or right after work or school, says Kim. Later in the evening is another popular time, because doctor's offices are generally closed. He points out that Mondays and Fridays are historically the busiest days. You can't control when you get hurt or sick, but if you can, try to go in the late morning or early afternoon mid-week, when wait times are typically shorter.