FAQ: What Is Urgent Care, And When Should You Use It?

When suffering from a life-threatening illness or condition, like a heart attack or serious head injury, you should always proceed straight to the emergency room of a nearby hospital. But what about slightly less life-threatening conditions? When your usual general practitioner is unavailable (or when you don't have a GP in the first place), most people head over to the emergency room.

This can often be a big mistake because of extended wait times, shorter time with a medical professional, and a much higher fee. In recent years, a new type of medical care has emerged to fill this gaping hole in our healthcare system. Read on to find out more about a viable alternative -- urgent care centers and medical walk in clinics.

What Is Urgent Care?
Urgent care centers provide quality health care for situations in which a doctor's office is closed or inaccessible. That's why about 85% of urgent care centers are open seven days a week, and according to the Urgent Care Association of America, about 3 million patients visit them every week.

When Should I Use Urgent Care?
You should use urgent care when suffering from conditions that are not emergencies, but still require care within 24-hours. These might include:

Sprains and Fractures: More than 80% of ankle sprains are the result of an inversion, or the inward rolling of the ankle. The good news is that four out of five urgent care centers treat fractures, so you can have your bone treated and examined before determining if a hospital visit is even necessary.

Moderate Breathing Difficulty: Upper respiratory conditions were the most commonly diagnosed condition in urgent care centers in 2012. For routine medical problems like strep throat or a hacking cough, head to your nearest walk in clinic. However, should you suffer from severe chest pain or difficulty breathing, head to a hospital at once.

Testing, Imaging, and Labs: If you know that you were at risk for the contraction of a disease or illness, head to a medical clinic for walk in testing. Instead of waiting weeks for a doctor's appointment or hours at the emergency room, get tested right away to put your mind at ease. Many urgent care centers now offer diagnostics, imaging, and laboratory services, for everything from STD tests to back-to-school checkups.

Urgent care fills a very important niche in the medical system, treating people who have important medical situations that aren't necessarily emergencies. Don't put off getting something checked out when you have the option to get medical help today.

And while walk in centers shouldn't replace a general practitioner, these neighborhood medical clinics have been a godsend for millions of Americans around the country.

If you need urgent medical care in Washington state, Immediate Clinic has dozens of offices throughout the greater Seattle area. If you're trying to locate the nearest clinic outside the Seattle region, simply search 'walk in clinic near me' on your favorite search engine.