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ER Alternative: The Urgent Care Center
"When illness or injury strikes, members frequently head to the closest emergency room," says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. "Usually, though, there's a better and more cost effective choice."
Does Your Condition
Warrant the ER?
The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) offers this list of warning signs that indicate a medical emergency and a reason to go the closest emergency room:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
- Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
- Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
- Changes in vision
- Confusion or changes in mental status
- Any sudden or severe pain
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Suicidal feelings
- Difficulty speaking
- Unusual abdominal pain
If you think your condition is life-threatening or will worsen on the way to the ER, call 911. An emergency medical team will be sent to you.
Sabitoni points out that, for most conditions, urgent care centers provide quality treatment minus the cost and long wait times that have come to define emergency room (ER) care. "Unless your condition is life-threatening, you should go to an urgent care center," he says.
Every day more than 300,000 Americans go to an ER for care. Frequently, their health problems are not true emergencies. Sinus infections, earaches, minor cuts and sprains can easily be treated elsewhere. Nevertheless, these are among the common ailments that contribute to crowded ERs and delays in being seen. For ER patients without a true health crisis such as a heart attack, stroke or serious injury, two-hour wait times are not unusual.
Urgent Care Centers
Urgent care centers can provide quality treatment in a fraction of the time and at a lower cost than an ER. With on-site doctors and physician assistants, they offer a higher degree of care than that of retail health clinics in pharmacies and big-box stores, practical options to ERs for minor health conditions such as sinus and ear infections. Services available at urgent care centers include x-rays, fracture care and suturing at about a third of what they cost at an ER.
A Rand Corporation study finds that more than $4 billion dollars in health care costs would be saved every year if people who could do so would get medical care somewhere other than an ER. Urgent care centers are viable alternatives. They save patients hundreds of dollars, are open seven days a week and have extended hours. Although some urgent care centers encourage people to call ahead, appointments are generally not required.
Urgent care centers may be covered by insurance. Go to the Urgent Care Association of America website to find the center that is most convenient for you.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]