Sometimes you may need health care quickly. And, the question becomes where to go for that care. If you can’t reach your doctor, should you get treatment at a health clinic or urgent care center rather than your hospital’s emergency room? In situations that are not life-threatening and when you are not in a crisis, to save time and money, you should consider seeking care at a health clinic or urgent care center.
Is there an FQHC near you? If you do not believe you are in an emergency situation and your doctor is not available to see you, you should consider getting care at a federally qualified health center (FQHC) if there is one near you. These health clinics are administered by the federal government and provide free and low-cost health care. Today, there are nearly 1,400 health centers providing services at 11,000 service delivery sites throughout the US.
Is there a free or charitable health clinic near you? There are more than 1,200 free or charitable health clinics across the US. You might check to see whether there is one near you.
What about a commercial walk-in clinic or an urgent care facility? There are more than 7,500 urgent care centers (where you can usually see a doctor) in the US today. There are also more than 2,800 commercial walk-in health clinics (where you typically see a nurse) located at pharmacies and retail stores like Walmart and Walgreens.
Why go to an urgent care facility or walk-in clinic instead of an emergency room? If you have a common problem, such as a fever, an infection, a stomachache or a deep cut, ask yourself these questions:
- What does my doctor recommend? Call your primary care doctor to see if he or she is available to see you. It is always best to have your primary care doctor providing your care. If that’s not possible, find out where the doctor recommends you go for treatment.
- Is there an urgent care center or walk-in clinic near me? If so, can it provide the care I need? And, will my Medicare plan cover my care?
- What will I pay out of pocket? The cost of your care at a walk-in clinic or urgent care center is likely to be much lower than at the local hospital emergency room or ER. However, if you have traditional Medicare, and supplemental coverage, it should cover your ER care. If you are in a Medicare Advantage plan with a high deductible, your health plan may deny coverage if it decides it was not an emergency. And, even if it covers your care, you will likely save money by avoiding the ER.
- How long am I willing to wait to get care? The wait for care may be much shorter at a health clinic or urgent care facility than at an ER.
Keep in mind that quality of care you receive is likely to vary significantly depending upon the care you need and the skills of the health care provider delivering the care.
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