What Does an Urgent Care Physician Do?

Lainie Petersen

An urgent care physician provides health care services to individuals who make use of walk-in medical centers. These services vary, but typically include physical examinations and diagnosis and treatment for minor injuries and illnesses. The urgent care physician may also be responsible for supervising other health care professionals who work in the practice, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants. In most cases, an urgent care physician will not provide ongoing care to patients, but will instead refer patients to a primary care physician or specialist in the community for continued care.

Patients generally follow up on urgent care treatment with their regular doctors.
Patients generally follow up on urgent care treatment with their regular doctors.

Urgent care, sometimes known as ambulatory care or immediate care, is a branch of medicine that treats individuals who have non-life-threatening medical conditions and who are unable to consult with their primary care physician to receive prompt diagnosis and treatment. Urgent care centers are located in many communities and typically operate on a walk-in basis. Patients do not need to make appointments to see doctors or other health care professionals, and these medical centers may be open extended hours to allow patients to receive care during times that regular doctors offices may not be open. Although some urgent care physicians may have experience working in emergency medicine, urgent care centers are not emergency rooms and individuals with serious or life-threatening emergencies will be referred to a local hospital emergency room for treatment.

Some people do not have a personal physician but may find that they are in need of an examination for work, school, or insurance purposes. They may also have a relatively minor injury or illness that needs treatment. An urgent care physician can perform necessary physical examinations, order diagnostic tests, and provide treatment such as stitches. When necessary, an urgent care physician can also prescribe medications.

In some cases, an urgent care center may rely on the services of nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to provide the bulk of care for the clinic's patients. In such cases, the clinic may employ an urgent care physician to provide more advanced care to patients with more serious conditions or to supervise and consult with the nurse practitioners and physician's assistants to ensure that each patient gets the best care possible. In situations where treating a patient is beyond the capabilities of urgent care staff, the urgent care physician may also be able to assist in making appropriate referrals to other physicians and providing pertinent information to a patient's new or current doctor.

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