Over the past several years, urgent care facilities have become an integral part of the American healthcare system. As emergency rooms and doctors offices have grown more crowded, these walk-in clinics have helped patients access needed treatment for non-life-threatening conditions.
Today, many urgent care centers offer medical care for everything from asthma to abdominal pain, as well as X-ray services for bone-related problems like fractures. However, as these clinics have grown more popular, many medical professionals have expressed concern that patients were seeking urgent care when they actually needed treatment from an emergency room. For this reason, the state of Illinois had prohibited the facilities from using the word “urgent” in their names. Now, the state has lifted the ban.
For years, urgent care centers in the Prairie State were required to use names like “immediate care,” “convenient care” and “walk-in care,” as Illinois law reserved words that conveyed crisis or exigency for emergency rooms. This legislation was instated after some non-emergency clinics were found to be billing their services at hospital prices. However, in January 2015, the state lifted this ban, allowing urgent care centers to use their common, traditional name.
The change has pleased many urgent care professionals, who say the change helps create a sense of consistency throughout the industry. Currently, there are an estimated 9,000 urgent care facilities located throughout the United States. In spite of the incidents in Illinois, these clinics are known for their convenience and affordable services, which can cost significantly less than the care provided in an emergency room.
However, emergency room doctors say that allowing a parallel to exist between their facilities and urgent care clinics is dangerous for patients. pointing out that urgent care clinics do not have the capabilities to treat serious problems.
“Urgent care centers are options for common medical problems like minor illnesses and injuries,” Dr. Michael Gerardi, President of the American College of Emergency Physicians, wrote in a letter to the Chicago Tribune. “They are not substitutes for emergency care.”
In light of Illinois’s recent change, patients are advised to remember the difference between the different types of clinics. If a patient is experiencing a minor medical condition that could be treated in a doctor’s office, for example, it is acceptable to seek urgent care. However, if a patient believes they may have the symptoms of a medical emergency, they should visit an emergency room immediately.