Difference Between Urgent Care, Walk-in Care, Immediate Care, and Convenient Care?
In general these terms all refer to “urgent care,” which is differentiated from other health care delivery models based on:
- No appointment necessary to see a medical provider
- Evening and weekend operating hours
- X-ray on site
- Capability to perform procedures like suturing and casting
Additionally urgent care centers tend to be positioned in high-visibility, consumer accessible locations, have a strong customer service orientation, and focus on getting patients in and out quickly.
Whether a center chooses to call itself “urgent care,” “immediate care,” “walk-in care,” “convenient care”—or to brand itself in such a way that connotes the same concept of on-demand medical care (such as FastMed, CareNow, or MedExpress)—the name chosen is up to the individual practice and should not be inferred as differentiating the center’s scope or quality of services.
The use of the term “urgent care” is generally unregulated with the exception of Illinois and Delaware. In those states, urgent care centers adopt alternative, interchangeable names such as “immediate care” or “convenient care” that connote the delivery model and scope of services offered in compliance with the states’ marketing and signage restrictions.
Urgent care centers, regardless of their moniker, treat minor or acutely rising medical conditions that patients feel require immediate medical attention but that are not medical emergencies. Non-urgent conditions can generally wait to be treated by scheduled appointment in a primary care office and medical emergencies involving trauma or resuscitation should go straight to a hospital emergency room.
Services offered are generally defined by the practice, but there is a baseline of a broad scope of both "primary care" type services as well as more acute care that is beyond the typical primary care office but below the treatment of life or limb-threatening conditions. Many urgent care centers also provide occupational medicine services, and various other ancillary types of care (physical therapy, weight-loss, etc.)
Do Urgent Care Centers Do Primary Care?
In some communities urgent care centers do formally function as the primary care practice for some of their patients, usually driven by patient demand rather than competitive intent. These practices do handle ongoing chronic conditions and serve as a formal “medical home” for their patients.
Cost of Care Infographic - Click the Image to Enlarge