Accidents and illnesses can happen anytime, but during the holiday season getting in to see your primary care doctor may be a challenge.
So what should you do when you cut your hand prepping a family feast? Consider heading to the nearest urgent care clinic instead of the emergency room, to save both time and money.
Urgent care clinics are staffed by medical doctors (as are emergency rooms) and are designed to deal with immediate but non-life-threatening issues such as broken bones or cuts that may require stitches.
Retail clinics usually have nurse practitioners or physician assistants available who can help with common illnesses.
For any condition involving difficulty breathing, chest pain, head trauma, unconsciousness or other life-threatening symptoms, call 911 and go to the emergency room.
In recent years, the number of urgent care and retail health clinics has increased dramatically. A survey from Marketdata Enterprises Inc. found that retail clinics, which first began opening in 2000, will double in number from 2012 to 2016, reaching 2,700 sites.
The largest number of retail clinics are the Minute Clinics at CVS, followed by Take Care Clinics at Walgreens. Target and Wal-Mart also offer health clinics in select stores.
In 2012, there were about 9,000 urgent care clinics nationwide, with 50 percent owned by physician groups and 28 percent owned by hospitals.
Most clinics offer walk-in service, are open seven days a week and accept insurance. Some have extended hours, and clinics already have begun posting their holiday schedules.
In addition to saving time (the average wait time in an ER is an hour), urgent care and retail clinics can save you money. A 2009 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared the costs of four medical settings when used to treat ear infections, sore throat and urinary tract infections. The average price of the retail clinic visit was $110, the urgent care center was $156, physician offices were $166 and an emergency room visit was $570.
Before you head to a clinic, do some research online. Be sure the clinic you plan to visit is equipped to service your needs. Some clinics have x-ray machines on-site – a must if you suspect a sprain or broken bone. Others do not.
If a child needs urgent care, it is best to look for a clinic that serves children. They will have equipment and treatments geared to younger patients.
You also might want to give your doctor a call. Even if you can’t score a last-minute appointment, you can alert the office that you are going to an urgent care or retail clinic. The staff may even be able to offer a recommendation.
Once you have visited a retail clinic or urgent care clinic, be sure to have them send a record of your visit to your primary care doctor. This will ensure that all of your health information is properly tracked and recorded.