In recent years, there has been an increase in the availability of urgent care centers, which have appeared in American small towns, strip malls, and urban cores. Users of urgent care and retail health clinics were more likely to be women, younger (under 44), non-Hispanic Whites, and have either some college or a college degree or higher, according to a June 2021 report from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Patients visit urgent care and retail clinics for a variety of reasons, such as easier access, more flexible scheduling, lack of confidence in primary care, or an urgent situation.
When you need them, urgent care centers are great. Urgent care is a great option for rashes, cuts, and burns.
Overall, though, preventive healthcare cannot be replaced by urgent care.
What does preventive medicine entail?
According to a review published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, some patients are making appointments for urgent care visits for conditions that are best handled by primary care providers, such as immunizations, musculoskeletal and dermatologic conditions, lab and diagnostic tests, and blood pressure checks.
However, the review noted that relying on urgent care for preventive medicine can lead to problems later on, such as decreased continuity of care, difficulty accessing preventive services, and difficulty managing chronic conditions. Those who frequently seek urgent care might not know how to use the healthcare system and avoid receiving treatment.
Preventive healthcare is a component of routine care. Updated vaccinations and screenings for conditions like diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, and high blood pressure are typically part of a preventive health visit. Your doctor may talk about any recent changes you’ve experienced and advise you to lead a healthy lifestyle while keeping an eye out for any potential long-term risks from alcohol, cigarettes, or diet.
In a typical annual exam, your doctor takes your blood pressure, examines your heart and lungs, and orders blood tests. A primary care physician may perform a Pap smear on a woman in a clinic, and men may have a prostate exam. Once you reach a certain age, your doctor might refer you for a routine colonoscopy or mammogram, as well as for genetic cancer testing or other specialized concerns.
Where urgent care falls short
There are structural differences between a PCP office and an urgent care facility. Urgent care is designed for acute and episodic illnesses that can be diagnosed and treated quickly, within 15 to 10 minutes.
A limited amount of preventive care testing may be offered by an urgent care facility, but this is usually only in response to a more urgent symptom, not for prevention. Doctors who treat patients in urgent care don’t frequently check for, diagnose, or offer management for chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. Patients who frequently go to an urgent care facility might have unnecessary repeat tests and procedures performed on them.
Neglecting yearly preventive screening tests can have serious consequences. An X-ray may reveal and diagnose pneumonia in an older smoker who presents with a cough. However, a small mass that may be early-stage lung cancer could be disregarded or only casually mentioned to a patient. The patient could have had a better health outcome if the primary care provider had addressed the situation earlier and more effectively, according to Venkat.
The advantages of primary care doctors
As you develop a two-way relationship and trust, you want to see someone who is familiar with your ongoing problem, who you have known for a long time. If the regimen is ineffective, your PCP may adjust it or refer you to a specialist.
Additionally, a PCP’s preventive care offers more options for the patient. You can look through testimonials and reviews, enlist the help of friends and family, or pick a provider based on factors like gender, education, or experience. In an urgent care facility, you might never see the same doctor twice because you’ll be assigned to one of the many providers working that shift.
Since all of your tests and results are kept in one location, having a PCP gives you the advantage of continuity of care and consistent record keeping. Contrarily, unless they are associated with the same healthcare system, there is typically no information transfer between an urgent care visit and your primary care physician.