If a health concern is more urgent than an appointment with a primary care physician but doesn’t warrant a trip to the ER, an urgent care center might be the perfect place to seek treatment.
They’re becoming more commonplace destinations for patients too — as of November 2018, the total number of urgent care centers in the U.S. reached 8,774, up 8 percent from the previous year.
But once you’re treated for non-life-threatening needs, like a minor burn, sore throat, ear infection or STD testing, navigating the next steps for follow-up care can seem tricky.
Can urgent care offer referrals to a specialist? What about medication? How do you make sure everything that just happened was properly documented? Knowing what to expect can ease the transition and ensure your medical records are as complete as possible.
Here’s what you should know following an urgent care appointment.
Follow-up visits: Are they needed?
Depending on the diagnosis, the clinician that treats you during your urgent care visit may or may not recommend a follow-up visit to the urgent care center, or may suggest making an appointment with your primary care physician to check in with them.
“We usually advise our patients to reach out to their PCP for any condition requiring a follow-up visit,” said Emmy Ansinelli, director of marketing at MedRite.
If a patient does not have a PCP, they can return to the urgent care for additional care if needed, although there are good reasons why that may not be the best option for patients.
Referrals: Can you get them at urgent care?
For conditions requiring specialist care, the urgent care clinician will provide recommendations and a referral. Also check in with your primary care physician, if possible, to keep them abreast of your treatment.
Prescriptions: Can urgent care give them out?
An urgent care provider can prescribe medication just like a PCP or hospital provider. To save time, come prepared with your preferred pharmacy’s information, including the address and phone number. You should be able to collect your medication once the pharmacy fills your prescription.
Follow-up questions: Where should you go?
Nearly 85 percent of urgent care patients are taken care of in less than 60 minutes, so if you get home after your visit and have any questions or concerns, you can bring those to your primary care doctor.
However, about one-third of Americans don’t have a PCP. In that case, you can reach out to the urgent care center again.
“Once a patient has visited one of our locations, their information is saved for their next visit,” Ansinelli said. “We are always happy to be able to provide care to a repeat patient.”