When you suffer an injury, it may not seem bad enough to go to the hospital. However, getting an appointment with your primary care physician generally requires a waiting period, and you know you need to do something to address the injury.
The only other option is to head to an urgent care clinic. These clinics are for minor injuries, like broken bones, minor-to-moderate burns and illnesses. Typically, patients go there for reduced wait times and so they don’t get the high bills associated with the emergency room.
These urgent care facilities are beneficial. They’re more accessible than emergency rooms and come at a lower cost. They see patients quickly in most cases. Despite that, there is a risk of receiving care that isn’t up to the standard you should be seen in a medical facility. Often, the doctors and nurses are overworked, tired and unable to perform the kinds of tests they could at a fully functional hospital.
Are urgent care facilities dangerous to patients?
One study looked at patient vital signs while checking into an urgent care facility. The study, which included over 90,000 high-risk patient profiles, showed that around 10 percent had very unusual vital signs. Out of the 9,000 patients who did show an abnormal vital sign, only 84 percent received a re-evaluation to review the unusual vital sign. That means that 16 percent were sent home in possibly life-threatening conditions.
Another problem at urgent care is that the medical providers are unfamiliar with patients and their histories. Without solid family histories to rely on, it’s hard to know if a patient has certain risk factors. In that case, the doctor has to remember to ask. For example, a patient who comes into the facility presenting with chest pain could have up to 20 risk factors that would play a role. The medical provider should be asking about each of those risk factors to eliminate possible causes and determine what the patient is actually suffering from. Careful risk assessment saves patients’ lives.
While at an urgent care facility, it’s also vital to receive a full examination of the organ system involved in the case. For instance, a patient who has a broken leg should have the respiratory system checked for shock as well as the leg itself for damage to the arteries or blood vessels. Similarly, patients with headaches need to have a full neurological exam.
If the facility can’t handle a patient’s case, it needs to call a hospital and arrange for transport for more appropriate care. Failing to treat the patient and releasing him or her in poor health could result in more serious injuries or even death.