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Are Sicker Patients Using Urgent Care?

Guest : Rebecca Parker, MD
Summary: An Urgent Care facility is not a replacement for the ER. Learn the differences, as well as signs that you should go directly to the ER.
Air Date: 6/6/14
Duration: 10
Host: Leigh Vinocur, MD
Are Sicker Patients Using Urgent Care?
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, many clinics, hospitals and ERs are seeing a rise in patients.

Unfortunately, there is a shortage of physicians available to take on the demand; which means that more and more urgent care facilities are trying to fill the void of not enough primary care.

This can become problematic when people start substituting Urgent Care for the ER. Many patients are simply misguided as to where they should go, while others are being referred to Urgent Care by their primary physicians.

One thing to keep in mind is that you must understand what Urgent Care clinics can do, and what level of treatment you might be able to receive. Some facilities can perform and process blood work while others can't. It's difficult to diagnose more serious issues when you can't perform the proper tests.

What are some critical warning signs that you should think twice about before skipping the ER and heading to Urgent Care?

Anything heart-attack related, such as chest pain, pain down the arm, nausea, shortness of breath. Remember, women have atypical symptoms for heart attack such as dizziness or weakness, so those symptoms should not be ignored either.

Of course stroke indications such as weakness, not being able to speak and having trouble walking should send you immediately to the ER. And any sort of seizure or instance of passing out should be addressed in an Emergency Department.

If you are in doubt, you should always call 911. The 911 system was built to address emergencies. Always err on the side of safety.

Another thing to consider is that even though these UC centers are popping up, there still aren't enough doctors. Physician "extenders" such as Nurse Practitioners and Physician's Assistants can help, but you must realize they are a different kind of provider than a doctor. NPs and PAs are OK for minor emergencies and they can help fill that void, but there is still need for primary care physicians.

Also, some Medicare plans require that you be seen by a physician first, or they won't cover the care.

Finally, UC centers charge the money up front, whereas ERs treat you first then worry about the money later. If there's any question in your mind that you absolutely need to see a doctor right away, the ER is the way to go.

Dr. Rebecca Parker joins Dr. Leigh to discuss the critical differences between Urgent Care facilities and ERs, as well as the best ways to assess which option is best for you and your loved ones.

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