An urgent care center provides a broad level of medical care for people who need treatment for serious, but not immediately life-threatening conditions. Sometimes called walk-in care, these centers are an alternative to going to the emergency room (ER) for a condition that may end up leaving the patient waiting for hours. There are several benefits to an urgent care center (UCC) but like any other medical care, negligent medical care can leave a patient suffering serious injuries.
When an urgent care doctor, nurse, or physician’s assistant makes a mistake in treating or diagnosing a patient, it can result in serious harm or even death. Urgent care errors can include delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, hospital-acquired infection (HAI), failure to get a referral, or medication errors. If you are injured because of an urgent care visit, a medical malpractice claim can help you recover medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.
What Happens in Urgent Care
There are nearly 10,000 urgent care centers across the country. The amount of urgent care facilities has increased dramatically over the past decade, as more people visit urgent care facilities for non-emergency medical care instead of getting regular preventative care from their doctors. Even with increased access to health care, many people prefer urgent care as a lower-cost option compared to going to the hospital.
Urgent care facilities can be operated by hospitals and managed care organizations (MCOs) or they could be stand-alone facilities that only provide urgent care services. UCCs only go back to about the 1970s where doctors began to open these centers to respond to the need for patients seeking treatment for non-life-threatening issues that were not a high priority for EDs. Urgent care provides for services that fall somewhere between a scheduled visit with a doctor and a trip to the emergency room.
The process of visiting an urgent care center begins with registering with the facility. There may be an intake administrator, nurse, or other healthcare worker to take basic information from the patient. The primary information includes the reason for the patient’s visit. However, other information collected may include:
- Name and contact information
- Social Security number
- Insurance information
- Medical history
- Emergency contact information
The patient may be treated based on a triage system, similar to the emergency room. More serious conditions are generally treated first or referred to the emergency room. Less serious conditions may require the patient to wait longer, or be referred to another facility. In an urgent care center, a doctor, nurse, or physician’s assistant (PA) may do an evaluation to determine your treatment options or diagnosis. This usually involves a physical exam, reviewing vital signs, and talking to the patient. The doctor can then make a diagnosis and let the patient know about their treatment options.
Some treatment can be provided in the urgent care center. Urgent care centers generally have more limited treatment options but can often provide prescriptions, medication, minor surgery, x-rays, or other diagnostic testing. For other treatments, the patient may have to follow up with their doctor or go to the emergency room.
Urgent Care or the Emergency Room
Whether you should go to the emergency room or urgent care depends on several factors. If you have a serious medical condition, you should call 9-1-1. This includes severe trauma, or symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, or loss of consciousness. An emergency room generally has access to more types of medical care, facilities, and treatment options.
If your condition is not life-threatening, you may want to visit urgent care. However, many urgent care centers are not operated 24-hours a day. If your injury occurs in the middle of the night, the ED may be your only option. UCCs often provide more hours of access compared to a typical doctor’s office, often open into the evening or on the weekends. Check with the urgent care centers in your area for more information.
According to one care center, the most common conditions for visiting the urgent care facilities were:
- Broken bones and sprains
- Ear aches and infections
- Eye irritations
- Food poisoning
- Hives and rashes
- Kidney stones
- Pediatric conditions (ear ache, sore throat, cough, and rashes)
- Poison ivy
- Sinus infection
- Stomach flu, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Strep throat
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Wound repair
According to a report from the Chicago Tribune, published in 2015, “urgent care clinics are popping up in former video stores, restaurants, convenience stores, carwashes, day care centers and electronics shops at a dizzying rate of between 300 and 600 each year across the nation.” The urgent care industry is expected to continue to grow and expand.
Delayed Treatment for Serious Medical Condition
One of the problems with going to urgent care is that the patient’s condition may be too serious for UCC treatment. For example, going to the urgent care for a stroke, heart attack, or pregnancy emergency may delay treatment that can only be provided through a full-service emergency room. Fortunately, most urgent care doctors can recognize the signs and symptoms of a medical emergency and call 9-1-1 or send the patient to the hospital.
However, some serious medical conditions can be misdiagnosed as another condition that may not appear to be an emergency. Common medical misdiagnosis claims involve cardiac arrest or cardiorespiratory arrest. A diagnostic error involves a doctor who makes a mistake in diagnosing the condition of the patient, including misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and failure to diagnose.
A diagnostic error may result in the patient getting sent home without the patient knowing they should go immediately to the emergency department. If a patient goes home instead of to the hospital, they may fail to go back to the ED, even when their condition does not improve. Delayed treatment can be disastrous, causing permanent damage, avoidable pain, and even death.
Failure to Get a Referral for a Medical Emergency
Urgent care facilities offer limited medical treatment. When a patient needs other care that cannot be provided by the UCC, the doctor should refer the patient to another facility, specialist, or tell the patient to make a follow-up appointment with their primary care physician (PCP). Failure to give a proper referral may be a breach of the medical duty of care.
If the patient has a medical condition that cannot be treated in the UCC, the doctor, nurse, or PA should let the patient know that they should seek out other care. Similarly, if the doctor does not know what is wrong with the patient or is unsure of the diagnosis, the doctor shouldn’t just say “I don’t know what’s wrong. You can go home.” If the doctor does not know the source or cause of the patient’s complaints after performing a standard evaluation, the doctor could refer the patient for further review.
Local Urgent Care Facilities
There are urgent care facilities across the country and may provide more care options than standard emergency rooms, which are limited in number and generally attached to hospitals. If you have health insurance, check with your insurance provider to understand your options in seeking out local urgent care if you need to see a doctor but may not need to go to the ER.
According to the industry association Urgent Care Association (UCA), based in Illinois, there are nearly 350 member urgent care facilities in Illinois alone. Other states with large numbers of UCCs include:
- Pennsylvania: More than 350 urgent care centers
- Maryland: More than 200 urgent care centers
- California: More than 1,000 urgent care centers
The UCA defines urgent care services as:
“A medical examination, diagnosis and treatment for non-life or limb threatening illnesses and injuries that are within the capability of an urgent care center which accepts unscheduled, walk-in patients seeking medical attention during all posted hours of operation and is supported by on-site evaluation services, including radiology and laboratory services; and any further medical examination, procedure and treatment to the extent they are within the capabilities of the staff and facilities available at the urgent care center.”
Urgent Care in Chicago
According to a study by Accenture, visits to urgent care centers increased 19% from 2010 to 2015. There are a number of urgent care facilities in Chicago and the surrounding area. Some providers of urgent care clinics include:
- Physicians Immediate Care (with over 10 Chicago urgent care clinics)
- MedSpring Urgent Care (with a number of clinics in Illinois)
- Northwestern Physicians Group Immediate Care
- NorthShore University Health System Immediate Care
- Midwest Express Clinic
- Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care
- UI Health Urgent Care
- Advocate Medical Group Immediate Care
- Aayu Clinics Primary Urgent Care
- Family Urgent Care
Baltimore Urgent Care Locations
Baltimore has more than a dozen hospitals and emergency departments, but for patients seeking non-life-threatening health care services, a visit to the urgent care can be faster and cheaper than waiting to get an appointment with their doctors. Some of the immediate care centers in the Baltimore area include:
- Priority Care Clinics
- Patient First Urgent Care
- MedStar Health Urgent Care
- ExpressCare Urgent Care
- University of Maryland Urgent Care (formerly ChoiceOne)
- Kaiser Permanente Urgent Care
- CityCare Family and Urgent Care
- ExpressCare at Sinai Hospital
- UMaryland Immediate Care
- Allcare Family Medicine & Urgent Care
- Concentra Urgent Care
Philadelphia Urgent Care Visits
There are more than a dozen emergency departments in Philadelphia. However, not all injuries require emergency care. Patients with non-immediate injuries or conditions can end up waiting around for hours in an ED before they are seen. Some patients end up leaving the ER after waiting, without ever being seen. There are urgent care centers across Philadelphia, treating a number of non-emergency conditions, including:
- Broken bones
- Burns (minor)
- Cough, cold, and flu
- Cuts and lacerations
- Ear infections
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Gynecology infections
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Skin conditions
- Sore throat
- Upper respiratory infections
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Work-related injury and screening
Individuals can find a number of urgent care centers in Philadelphia. However, the patient may have no idea about the quality of care they may receive. If you believe you did not receive a proper medical examination at an urgent care center, you may want to seek out a second opinion. Failing to get treatment for a serious condition can make the injury worse or reduce your treatment options later on. If you believe you were injured during an urgent care visit, you can contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm for advice.
A search of urgent care facilities in Philadelphia provides more than a dozen options, including:
- AFC Urgent Care
- Jefferson Urgent Care
- Vybe Urgent Care
- MyDoc Urgent Care
- Penn Urgent Care
- Tower Health Urgent Care
- CityLife Health
- Temple ReadyCare
- Epic Urgent Care
- Concentra Urgent Care
- Roxborough Urgent Care
What Can I Do If I Get Sick From the Urgent Care Facility?
Like other care facilities, there may be other sick people sharing the same space while waiting for treatment. There is a risk of hospital-acquired infection (HAI) if the urgent care facility negligently fails to properly prevent and isolate infections. Common hospital-associated infections include:
- Surgical-site infection
- Gastrointestinal infection
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Primary bloodstream infections
- Eye, ear, nose, throat, or mouth infection
- Lower respiratory tract infection
- Skin and soft-tissue infection
If an urgent care clinic fails to take proper precautions, it could increase the risk of infection for a patient who was not infected when they came into the facility. This could include:
- Failure to isolate infectious patients
- Failing to properly clean and sanitize surfaces
- Failure to sterilize equipment
- Failure to wear masks or use personal protective equipment (PPE)
How Can a Medical Malpractice Lawyer Help?
If you were injured during an urgent care visit, you may be wondering how a medical malpractice lawyer can help. Medical malpractice is a civil legal claim that can help the injury victim and their family recover compensation for an injury caused by negligent care. If a doctor deviates from the medical standard of care and causes an injury to the patient, the doctor may be liable for damages.
Damages in a medical malpractice claim can include any of the economic or noneconomic losses associated with the injury, including paying for medical treatment, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If you think you may have been injured during an urgent care visit, talk to a professional about your rights.
An experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Gilman & Bedigian can evaluate your injuries and help you determine whether or not you may have a claim. Talk to experienced trial attorneys who can review your case, get an expert’s review, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim after an urgent care injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.