Depending on the nature and scope of treatments offered, health care providers can be classified into one of many general categories of care. It can often be confusing to know the difference between types of providers, so this study will set out to examine the major types of providers and offer a comparison and benefit analysis.
PRIMARY HEALTH CARE
Primary health care is often considered to be the first point of contact a patient has into the health care system when they need treatment or a checkup of their health problems. A primary care provider may be a primary care physician, general practitioner or family physician and if the situation calls for treatment beyond their capability, they will usually coordinate that treatment with the appropriate specialist. Sometimes people may also see a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner for their medical needs. Given their frequent interaction with their patients, family doctors have a good understanding of their patients’ medical history, their current health and their future healthcare goals.
On the other end of the health care spectrum are emergency rooms. They exist specifically to treat potentially life threatening emergencies. In order to accomplish that mission, they are open 24 hours a day and have all the necessary equipment, facilities, and emergency staff to address almost any medical issue. Typically they are located within a hospital complex, but recent trends have seen stand-alone ERs growing rapidly. Patients are seen based on the severity of their injuries, which can result in extensive wait times to see a doctor if the patients’ illness or injury is not truly serious.
Urgent care sits right in between a primary care provider and an emergency room. It is similar to emergency medicine in that it is designed to provide quick treatment to patients in need. However, unlike emergency rooms, urgent care centers offer treatment to patients with non-life threatening injuries or illnesses. In this way, they are similar to a primary care physician. A patient will typically visit urgent care when they either do not have a primary care doctor, or else their discomfort is such that they do not want to wait for an appointment at their primary care doctor. Since they are designed to fill the gap between an ER and primary care, an urgent care clinic is typically open beyond normal business hours and is open on weekends.
In order for patients to make the best choice among the options available to them, a careful comparison of the benefits and services provided by these different health care systems must be done. It is clear that medical issues which are threatening to one’s life can only be treated most effectively and efficiently in an emergency room. Yet for other non-life-threatening issues, there are many other important points to examine, such as cost considerations, wait times, the overall time necessary for treatment and overall convenience.
Various studies have examined the costs of treatment in different facilities for several of the most common ailments. The conclusion of those studies has been considered rather surprising. Receiving treatment at an urgent care center is often cheaper than visiting an emergency room, or even visiting a primary care physician. This holds true whether paying for the treatment in full or when using insurance, as the co-pay for an urgent care visit will often be lower than the co-pay for an emergency room visit. Depending on the type of insurance, an urgent care visit may even have lower co-pay than a primary care visit. In addition to having a higher co-pay, an emergency room visit may result in two separate charges – one from emergency room and one from the physician who treats you. An urgent care visit will only result in one charge.
In so far as wait time and the overall time necessary for treatment in the different facilities are concerned, urgent care centers are once again considered to be the best and most preferable option for minor medical issues. Emergency rooms treat patients with the most serious conditions first, so any patients with less urgent needs will wait longer to see a doctor. And when considering the severe and critical nature of diseases dealt with in emergency rooms, it makes sense that the time taken for the treatment of these cases is longer. Primary care doctors typically utilize an appointment style system, which means they rarely have same day or next day availability. Once an appointment is finally scheduled, the patient may end up facing a long wait in the lobby anyways as appointments inevitably run long and the doctor always seems to be running behind. Urgent care centers only see patients with non-life-threatening conditions on a first-come, first-serve basis and as the patients are there to receive treatment on a specific issue, the doctors do not spend additional time addressing extraneous items. All of these reasons help make urgent care centers increasingly popular, and convenient, for the modern patient.