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You wake up with a horrible headache, fever and dizzy. You feel sick all over.  You think you should see a doctor or a nurse but it’s Sunday and your primary physician doesn’t have office hours today. Who do you call for to get treatment? Do you call 911 for an ambulance to take you to the emergency room, or do you drive yourself to the closest urgent care clinic or retail clinic at a local pharmacy such as Target or CVS?

Depending on your decision it can impact your wait time and your bottom line dramatically.

Retail Clinic
A retail clinic is a walk-in clinic set up inside a retail store such as like Walmart and Target or at pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS. Most of these locations are designed to be as affordable and efficient as possible. They are usually staffed by a nurse practitioners (NPs) or physician assistants (PAs) rather than a doctor.

These clinics are ideal if you have a minor cuts, skin rash, cold or strep throat. Some also offer immunizations, annual physicals and health screenings. They all prescribe medications and most have adjacent pharmacies for pick-up convenience.

Retail clinic operations vary, most likely aligning with the retail store hours. Call ahead or check online for the type of treatment they offer, patient hours and, most important, expected wait times. If you’re feeling miserable, it’s difficult to wait several hours to see a nurse.

Urgent Care Centers
An urgent care center is more advanced than a retail clinic, with more staff and equipment. Most urgent care locations have at least one medical doctor on staff available to see patients any time the doors are open. In addition, there are nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Most urgent care locations have on-site X-Ray equipment and can handle more severe services such as broken bones, burns and other non-emergent conditions that retail clinics are unable to handle.

Urgent care facilities often fill the gap between primary care doctors and emergency rooms. But, an urgent care center is not a replacement for your doctor, who has your health history.

Both retail clinics and urgent care centers do require payment or insurance copay at the time of your visit.

Emergency Rooms
Most ERs are open 24 hours a day, specialize in life-threatening conditions and injuries that require highly trained medical personnel to diagnose and begin treatment. By law, they are require to accept any and all patients, regardless of their ability to pay. The average cost is many times greater than a retail clinic or urgent care, but remember, you come to the ER for a life-threatening condition.

Emergency care is the right choice for conditions such as:

  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Deep cuts or bleeding that won’t stop
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Numbness in the face, arm, or leg
  • Seizures
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe burns
  • Sudden blurred vision
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or loss of coordination or balance

Most emergency departments are also attached to a hospital and can admit you directly if you need surgery or other critical intervention for any of these conditions.

Understanding the different among the three types of care facilities is critical to ensuring you receive the right treatment.

Questions about how your insurance coverage fits in with these three type of care facilities. Give us a call and let’s talk about you coverage.