It happens. A child who spent the day happily, healthily, playing with his friend wakes up at night with a fever of 102 degrees. When the child and family can’t get in to see the doctor, it is sometimes hard for them to know what to do.
In years past, the answer was the emergency room, a term synonymous with blaring sirens and fatally wounded patients. Today’s families have a number of health care options that serve as an alternative to the traditional emergency room.
Urgent care facilities have become one of the fastest growing areas in health care as the demand for more affordable care outside of regular business hours continues to rise.
“Today’s families are busier than ever and their lives don’t always fit into a doctor’s regular office hours,” says Matthew Gibson, M.D., pediatrician at Methodist Physicians Clinic. “Immediate care clinics have become a more accessible and convenient solution for minor illnesses and injuries without the longer waits and bigger fees you typically have with an emergency room.”
Situations in which people might visit an immediate care clinic include minor illnesses like colds, fevers, flu, rashes, and mild infections. Many urgent and immediate care clinics can also perform X-rays, blood work, pregnancy tests, urinalysis, and strep screens, and apply casts, splints, and stitches.
According to surveys conducted by the Urgent Care Association of America, approximately 90 percent of urgent care visits take 60 minutes or less, while the average wait for an emergency room visit is four hours. The Urgent Care Association also reported in 2014 that nearly half of all visits to urgent care centers result in an average charge of less than $150—compared to the average cost of an emergency room visit, $1,354.
Urgent care clinics are typically open evenings after most doctor’s offices have closed, as well as on weekends and holidays. Unlike emergency rooms, they are not open 24/7. Some are stand-alone clinics, while most in the Omaha area are doctor’s offices during the day and transition to urgent care after hours.
Methodist has five urgent care clinics around town and Nebraska Medicine has four. They both bill visits the same as a regular doctor’s visit.
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center offers three urgent care sites in Omaha and one in Council Bluffs that specialize in pediatric care, including pediatric sports injuries.
CHI Health operates six urgent care centers in six clinic locations and as well as 10 Quick Care Clinics inside area Hy-Vee stores in Omaha and Council Bluffs. These Quick Care clinics are convenient walk-in clinics that provide care for minor medical problems for patients 18 months or older. The clinics are open evenings and on weekends, with no appointment necessary.
A visit to an emergency room would be warranted for more serious problems such as shortness of breath; chest palpitations; difficulty speaking; sudden dizziness; numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg; chest pain; uncontrollable cough; severe abdominal or pelvic pain; fractures with bones showing; loss of consciousness; dehydration; or gunshot wounds.
“If it’s not life-threatening and you’re not sure what to do, call your doctor first,” says Dr. Gibson. “Most pediatric offices have an after-hours nurse line who can help direct you to the right place.”
Patrick Anderl, M.D., family practitioner at Nebraska Medicine, agrees. “I always recommend calling your doctor first since they know you and your history. If you can’t reach your doctor or get in to see him or her in a timely fashion and it’s an acute problem, then you should consider immediate care.”
Another care option offered by Methodist and CHI is telemedicine and virtual care. These services offer care around the clock via phone or video (such as Skype, FaceTime, or video chat). Patients who use virtual care are connected with a licensed health care provider who can help diagnose and make treatment recommendations for a variety of common conditions like colds, sinus symptoms, urinary tract infections, sore throat, pink eye, or a rash. Prescriptions can also be filled, when required.
Methodist offers this service for a flat fee of $39 per visit. CHI Health is offering the service for $10 with a credit card for a limited time.
“This is just another way to give families access to care after the urgent care clinic has closed,” says Gibson. “You may be a mother at home with other children in bed and leaving the house may not be an option. This allows you to talk to a health care provider about your child’s illness instead of having to wait until the next day. It’s all about making care more accessible and convenient.” FamilyGuide
This article was originally printed in the Winter 2018 edition of Family Guide.