How and When to Use Urgent Care

Urgent care clinics can provide quick access to medical help

Urgent care facilities seem to be popping up everywhere. These clinics provide quick access to medical help when you need it for conditions that don't warrant a visit to the emergency department.

However, it can be tricky to know when you should visit urgent care instead of taking your troubles to an emergency department or waiting until your primary care physician can see you.

ebersole-robinson-maiko-ZZX11025Maiko Ebersole, MD, medical director for the new Sprint Center Urgent Care, agrees that the distinction is sometimes difficult. “It's natural to be confused about which symptoms are severe enough to need emergency care vs. urgent attention,” she said. “Calling your primary care physician for direction is a great first step if you're wondering where to go. He or she can advise you how to proceed as you seek medical help."

Urgent care clinics also provide services not available in most traditional doctor’s offices. "We can do X-rays, some lab work and run tests such as electrocardiograms that typically aren't offered at a standard clinic," said Dr. Ebersole. "And urgent care clinics may be a lot more convenient because you can walk in without an appointment, in a location closer to where you live or work."

Do visit urgent care for:

  • Asthma and allergy symptoms
  • Sore throats
  • Coughs
  • Fevers
  • Rashes
  • Minor burns
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Simple fractures or sprains
  • Cuts that might require stitches

Do not visit urgent care for serious symptoms!

Dr. Ebersole outlined some examples:  

  • Serious head injury
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Throwing up or coughing up blood
  • Bleeding that won't stop
  • Severe allergic reactions that include face swelling or itching throat
  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Fevers in babies three months old or younger
  • Pregnancy issues
  • Any symptoms that make it impossible to walk, breathe or perform other basic functions

These serious symptoms need immediate attention and may indicate life-threatening conditions. "Emergency departments are much better prepared for these situations," Dr. Ebersole said.

Yet even if you’re unsure where to go, it’s important to seek medical attention. "We certainly don't want people to be so afraid of making a mistake that they don't go anywhere," she said. "At an urgent care clinic, we can help people get it sorted out and get to the emergency department safely, if they need that level of care."

Tips for using an urgent care clinic

Once you've decided urgent care is your destination, you can do a few things to make the most of your visit.
  • Be able to describe your symptoms.
  • Provide a list of your current medications and allergies.
  • Know your basic medical history.
  • Be prepared for a brief wait.
    “We get to patients as quickly as we can,” said Dr. Ebersole. “Typically, patients are served in the order they arrive, unless we determine that someone's needs are much more urgent.”
  • Continue a relationship with your primary care physician.
    "Convenient care won't replace the relationship you have with your primary care physician,” Dr. Ebersole said. “A visit to urgent care is about one-stop shopping for singular symptoms. Your primary care doctor will address your health as a whole.”

Still have questions?
If you even think you need help, you probably do.
“Your questions and health concerns do not bother us. We want to help you!" she said.

Find The University of Kansas Hospital Urgent Care location closest to you.