Different types of walk-in urgent care include freestanding urgent care centers, doctor's offices with walk-in hours, and hospitals that offer urgent care hours. Some drugstores also offer basic medical services through in-store clinics. The differences between these urgent care, sometimes called immediate care, settings include their facilities, the qualifications of the health care professionals providing services, and the types of conditions that their staff can treat. Health care consumers should also be aware that there are variances in services available through individual walk-in urgent care clinics, even those that appear to be similar to each other, so it is always a good idea to call ahead to verify what types of care are available to patients.
A typical walk-in urgent care center is a freestanding office, often staffed by at least one physician as well as medical assistants, nurses, and other health care professionals. Individuals can visit the center without an appointment and receive diagnosis and treatment for non-life-threatening conditions such as the flu, minor cuts and burns, or sinus infections. Patients can also receive physical examinations at these clinics, which may include gynecological care. Diagnostic testing is usually available, as are vaccinations. Physicians who staff this type of facility will typically refer patients to primary care physicians and specialists for continued care.
Some hospitals also offer walk-in urgent care services. The advantage to using a hospital-based walk-in urgent care is that a patient who is in need of hospital care or more advanced testing can be immediately transferred to the hospital emergency room or admitted to the hospital. For hospitals, offering immediate care services outside the emergency room can ensure that emergency room resources get used for true emergencies. Patients benefit by not being required to wait several hours for treatment, as is often the case in emergency rooms.
Large group medical practices may offer walk-in urgent care hours during certain days of the week or hours of the day. For individuals who already have a primary care physician with the practice, this type of immediate care offers the best of both worlds. The patient gets care when needed, but he can also work with a facility that has his records on file. He can also receive follow-up care with his own physician.
In some communities, retail drugstore chains offer basic medical services in their stores. These clinics are usually staffed by a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant and typically offer basic services to patients, such as school physicals, cholesterol screenings,, and treatment for common, simple conditions such as pink eye or strep throat. The cost to use these retail clinics is often significantly lower than similar services offered in other medical settings. In addition, many patients may appreciate being able to obtain health care and pharmacy services at one location.