You’ve been tasked by your healthcare IT director to properly equip an Urgent Care Center. 

You freeze up, since you know nothing about the UC. Maybe you have the vaguest memory having visited one as a kid when you had a cold. Or was that the Emergency Room? What’s the difference, anyway?

This is a popular question we aim to explain today. We discuss what an Urgent Care is and how it differs from the ER. Then, based on these differences, we go over which features you’ll need to look at in medical computers to make your boss happy. 

What Is An Urgent Care Clinic?

An urgent care center, or UCC, is a clinic that offers medical treatment for non-life threatening illnesses and injuries. They are recommended for patients in need of an immediate appointment with their primary care provider (PCP) but either can’t get one, or the patient doesn’t have a PCP. While some UCCs belong to healthcare groups like medical clinics and hospitals, many are standalone and run without such association. 

The following are a sample of urgent cares found across the US:

  • American Family Care (AFC)
  • CareNow
  • CareSpot
  • CityMD
  • Concentra
  • Fast Med
  • GoHealth
  • MedPost
  • NextCare
  • Patient First
  • U.S. Healthworks

After hours walk-in clinics, minute clinics, quick care clinics, minor emergency centers, and minor care clinics are less common terms for UCCs. Same with the slang term, “docs in a box.”

The first urgent care centers opened in the US back in the Seventies. Usage was slow at first as patients sought most of their immediate health care through providers and Emergency Departments (ED). 

Several factors led to a surge in usage. People found UCCs increasingly more convenient as even regular appointments with providers could be weeks to even months away. EDs had become too expensive in both wait time and fees. Finally, urgent care was one of the few places available to readily obtain non-emergency tests and treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry Urgent Care Association (UCA) states in a report that patient volume rose a staggering 60 percent since 2019. 

Emergency Room vs Urgent Care

Five major differences separate urgent care centers from the Emergency Department. 

Are Urgent Cares Open 24/7? 

Urgent care hours are limited compared to Emergency Departments, though longer than medical offices. Many open their doors at 8 AM or earlier and close around 7 PM during the week, and close around 5 PM on weekends. Many may have holiday hours. This makes it easy for patients to simply walk in to seek treatment or to get an appointment. 

Emergency departments are generally open year-round, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

Can Anyone Go To Urgent Care?

Urgent care centers and facilities are not required by law to treat, stabilize, or even treat patients unable to pay their fees. Nor are they obliged to accept governmental funds like Medicaid. Many centers are not found in rural areas or places with high concentrations of low-income patients. 

With few exceptions, Emergency Departments are required to see patients regardless of ability to pay (or not). 

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room Cost

Urgent care centers typically charge less for services than the Emergency Department. They can do so because they only offer the care they need at the time. The average visit, for example, may cost $120-150. This doesn’t include additional services like needed X-rays, injections, medications, etc. 

An ER, on the other hand, has been built, equipped, and staffed to deal with life-threatening medical issues. Costs have been adjusted to reflect that level of medical care. Their services, on average, cost ten times more than visits to an UCC. Average price for a visit at the ER is around $1,300. Again, this does not include additional services like use of ambulances. That can easily add $400 alone, if not more. 

Who works in Urgent Care

The manpower varies at urgent care clinics. Many may only have a physician assistant (PA), nurse practitioner (NP), and a nurse on-site to examine patients with – maybe – an MD available off-site to sign off their work. Others may have the provider on-site. 

Typical EDs are staffed by highly skilled emergency medicine providers, specialists, PA, NP, and support staff like RNs, etc.    

What services are Provided at Urgent Care?

This is the main difference between an urgent care clinic and an Emergency Department. As previously mentioned, urgent care is designed to treat non-emergency yet time-sensitive conditions. 

A sampling includes:

  • Allergies (non-life-threatening)
  • Asthma (mild)
  • Burns
  • Cold or flu
  • Cuts (minor)
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Sprains
  • strep throat
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Vomiting

Some urgent care may be allowed to treat simple broken bones and fractures.

Unsurprisingly, Emergency Departments handle major emergencies, that is, life-threatening. These can include:

  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Complicated breaks and fractures (open or compound fracture)
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Multiple injuries
  • Non-stop bleeding
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Severe dizziness
  • Severe headache
  • Severe vomiting
  • Stroke
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain while pregnant    

What to look for in a Medical computer for Urgent Care

Now that you know what an urgent care center is, who works there, and who’s seen, consider the following features for any medical computers to be used in the clinic.

Patient Kiosks

Urgent care centers, unlike medical offices, are not intended to be a patient’s regular point of care. A primary provider is not usually assigned to patients, for example.

Patient information is still important for purposes like billing. This is usually handled with the clinic’s electronic medical record (EMR) system. While staff can take down the information manually, clinics can also be equipped with patient kiosks to streamline the work. These devices, which can be free-standing or mounted on the wall, guide patients to enter all necessary information into the built-in medical box PC via touchscreen or keyboard. Clinic staff and medical personnel can then review the results at the patient’s turn to provide proper treatment. 

Medical Tablets

Patients can also input their information via a medical tablet. Besides the portability and ease of use, it also offers: 

Fanless Design / IP65 – The tablets will be handled daily by patients, many of whom are sick and possibly infectious. To keep the equipment as germ-free as possible, they should be periodically cleaned with disinfectants and cleaners. Medical tablets with fanless design keep cool without drawing in air. This prevents the harsh cleaning liquids from entering and disrupting the delicate interior. Tablets rated IP65 are sealed so staff can directly spray on them without affecting the screen or housing. 

HIPAA compliance – Patient records are highly protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Violations can cost urgent care clinics thousands of dollars in penalties depending on severity. Security features like digital identification software Imprivata and features like RFID readers make sure the records are kept confidential. 

Closing Thoughts

Urgent care clinics treat patients with non-emergency medical needs from sprains and cuts to allergies. They form an important part in healthcare, helping patients who need to be seen quickly but do not need the services of an emergency room. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re running an urgent care and are interested in learning which medical computers would fit best for the clinic use from features to systems. 

Join the conversation and connect with us on this and other relevant topics – Follow us Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin