The late-Friday-afternoon fever. The peculiar rash that breaks out on the weekend. The after-hours ear ache that won’t ease up. Should you call your doctor? Visit an urgent care center? Head to the emergency department? UR Medicine emergency expert Dr. Michael Kamali helps sort out where to turn when you need after-hours care.
When off-hours incidents or illnesses strike, you may consider visiting a nearby urgent care center. We don’t recommend it for long-term care. That responsibility should be put in the hands of your primary care provider who manages your chronic conditions and works with you on prevention strategies for your health. There is no substitute for the strong relationship you’ve built over time with your own doctor. (If you don’t already have a primary care physician, you should consider finding one.)
Urgent care can serve a purpose when you need treatment for less-serious conditions and can’t or don’t want to wait until you can get an appointment with your own doctor. And the best urgent cares make communication with your personal physician a priority, to ensure you get proper follow-up soon after your visit and to help support the best continuum of care.
It’s important to know when urgent care is right for you, as well as its limits.
Urgent care centers can offer prompt evaluation and treatment for a variety of conditions that do not require an emergency department. Most are open every day, including holidays, and they are staffed by physicians. Many offer x-ray services. And the wait time also is much less than in an emergency department.
If you’re wondering where you should turn in a pinch in lieu of your own doctor, consider this list of what can be treated in an urgent care center setting:
- minor injuries
- minor lacerations
- eye redness or irritation
- minor fractures (fingers, toes)
- urinary tract infections
- upper respiratory tract infections
- fever or flu
- sore throat
- skin rashes
- skin infections
- sprains and strains.
After getting care at an urgent care facility, you should let your primary care doctor know about it so he or she is aware of the diagnosis and treatment and can record it in your medical record. And, while you’re at urgent care, be sure to ask if they have a process for their providers to communicate directly with your primary doctor.
Just as urgent care is not a substitute for consistent care provided by your doctor, it’s also not a substitute for the emergency department. Conditions that are life-threatening should be taken care of immediately at an ER, which provides more comprehensive, higher-skilled care.
More serious conditions, such as these, need to be evaluated in an emergency department:
- deep cuts or bleeding that won’t stop
- large bone fractures
- problems related to pregnancy
- knife or gunshot wounds
- coughing or vomiting blood
- chest pain
- suspected stroke or heart attack
- difficulty breathing
- severe burns
- loss of consciousness
- abdominal pain.
The best advice: Whenever possible, contact your primary care doctor first, so they can direct you to the right level of care.
Michael F. Kamali, M.D., is chair of the URMC Department of Emergency Medicine and directs UR Medicine’s urgent care centers in Spencerport, Pittsford, Henrietta and Penfield. UR Medicine’s Thompson Health provides Urgent Care services in Farmington and Newark.