As a physician working in several emergency centers and urgent cares, I see how much time it takes the average patient to get through the system. Knowing a few simple facts can help make your experience more efficient. Becoming an advocate for yourself is easier than you think. Be proactive and take just a few steps to make this process smoother.
Many Urgent Care clinics have published estimated wait times. This information is often available online and can save you some time and avoid hours in the waiting room. While these are just estimates, avoiding those that are clearly backed up can save time and avoid headaches.
If wait times are long, one can assume that lab, x-ray and other areas are also busy and the wait times may be compounded once you actually arrive. If you are in a hurry or need to make an appointment somewhere else, be sure to ask the staff what there estimate of time is. Most experienced nurses have a pretty good idea of how long things take for a variety of illnesses and procedures.
Urgent Care clinics are NOT the same as an Emergency Room. The services and scope of practice are completely different. The type of providers and their level of training are often quite different. Any severe or potentially lifethreatening concern is best handled in the ER.
Patients are often frustrated when they wait for 45 minutes in the Urgent Care waiting room only to be sent to the ER due to a serious concern such as chest pain or stroke symptoms such as numbness or weakness.
Don't hesitate to call ahead or utilize the nurse or information line associated with many clinics, ER's or insurance companies.
If you are still unsure, ask when you check in. The front line staff will have a pretty good handle on what conditions are appropriate for which setting.
Organize your thoughts and decide what specific issues or concerns you want addressed during the visit. Remember that an Urgent Care visit is a focused visit on a specific problem. Save the laundry list of head to toe complaints for your family physician who knows you best. It is difficult in the limited time available for an Urgent Care physician to solve a chronic problem during a single encounter. Thinking it will happen is setting everyone up for dissappointment.
Bring a book, magazine, music or whatever; just bring something. Don't rely on the newest or most exciting magazines to read. Often they are absent, in poor shape or non-existent. Also remember, how many sick people ahead of you have touched, coughed or sneezed on any particular magazine.
Request generics. Ask for an explanation of a test if you don't understand why it is being ordered or how it will change your care or treatment. Request a work note if needed before the visit ends. Providers and nursing staff are busy moving about caring for multiple patients at the same time. Asking for a note after you leave the exam room will undoubtedly add delay and cause you wait longer.