If you've ever gotten injured or become sick enough to contact your doctor but you've found your doctor's office swamped for the day and unable to see you, you know waiting can sometimes be more than uncomfortable. A number of options have sprung up to help you get medical attention in these situations, but they're not all the same. Here are four considerations that can point you toward whether or not to go to retail clinics or an urgent care center.
Seriousness of Problem
Sometimes the seriousness of a problem is obvious -- a broken bone, for example, is urgent care territory because of the need for x-rays and possibly more involved treatments. But if the problem in question is something like a sudden earache, you could go either way. If you're reasonably sure you know what's happening, and the need to see a doctor or nurse practitioner that day is due mainly to pain or infection, a retail clinic could work well. Anything more severe may be served better by an urgent care clinic.
Need for Additional Testing
Retail clinics are often set up to do a surprising amount of testing for conditions like urinary tract infections. But if you're dealing with a strange problem that you can't put your finger on, one that may require a more extensive battery of tests, urgent care clinics might be in a better position to help you.
The costs between the two options can vary widely. Many urgent care centers that are linked with specific hospitals often charge as much as a regular doctor's appointment would, but independent urgent care centers can be much more inexpensive. Retail clinics, however, can be very inexpensive for issues like simple checkups or tests. Overall, retail clinics could be a bit more inexpensive because they have the financial backing of a large corporation to shore them up (retail clinics tend to be in major drugstore chains).
Depending on how the clinics are set up, you may have difficulty seeing the same doctor or nurse practitioner as you did before, if you have to go back for more treatment. Both organizations will keep records on file for you, but you may have to do some explaining at each successive appointment. However, if you go to an urgent care center affiliated with the same hospital that your regular doctor's clinic works with, that center may have access to your regular medical records. If it does, then you'll be able to have the visit logged in the records. If it doesn't, or if you go to a retail clinic, you'll have to ask for a copy of the records to give to your regular doctor. If you prefer continuity like this, choose the urgent care center affiliated with the hospital and doctor's office.
Both centers can offer quality health care, and the staff can give you more detail about what conditions they'll see and treat. If you need to set up an appointment, call one and let them know what's going on.