Why You Shouldn’t Rely Solely On Urgent Care For Your Health Care Needs
It’s Tuesday night, 9 pm. You have a deadline to meet on Friday, and need to be at your best for the presentation that day. But tonight, your throat is on fire, your ears feel like they need to pop and you might be breaking out in chills. Why does this happen to you so often, anyway?? You simply do not have time for this! It may seem like the obvious solution is to check online for the nearest Urgent Care clinic, so you can get this over with and move on.
OK, that gets you to Friday. What if this happens again next week, while you’re on a business trip in a different city? Once again, you have to find a clinic, explain your history, list the medications you’ve been taking, mention the appendectomy you had in fifth grade. Hopefully, you won’t leave out an important detail that could affect your treatment or even your safety. All of this might get you adequate care, but will you be looking forward to repeating it all next time?
Let’s envision this instead: you could just as easily contact someone who has your complete medical record at their fingertips. You are invited to share who you are and details about your lifestyle, as your care provider knows that this is the foundation of your health. You will co-create a personalized, comprehensive solution to your health needs. Now that would be wonderful!
As a Primary Care Provider (PCP), that’s exactly what I do. My healthcare team and I focus on who you are as an individual. Primary care is your healthcare homebase, a place where you can build connections with people who get to know you, and are ready to help navigate any health issues that come your way. No matter where life takes you, your PCP can be there for you - and help to solve your healthcare needs, ranging from simple concerns to complex issues. The main reason I specialized in Family Medicine was to be able to help people in all aspects of their health. After getting to know you, I have a much better idea of how to handle your 4th sore throat in the past 6 months. And I’ll be just as interested in helping when you go on to say, “can I talk to you about my trouble sleeping when I travel for work?”
At every visit, I make time to explain my medical reasoning and why its tailored to your specific needs. I love explaining to patients my thought process that led to a working diagnosis, the anatomy behind their symptoms, and what the most recent evidence-based recommendations are for their ailment. It just so happens that the word doctor comes from the Latin verb docēre - “to teach”. There is a lot of information about health coming your way, and I would love to help you sift through it.
Urgent Care just doesn’t do that. Yes, it’s better than going to the ER with illnesses and injuries that are not life-threatening. Yes, many doctors’ offices are so full that you can’t get in for weeks or months. But Urgent Care is just that, quick and brief, and there’s no time for connecting with you. Not only that, but your Urgent Care visit may lead to an inappropriate treatment. A recent study found that retail clinics and Urgent Care prescribe more unnecessary antibiotics than any other setting. Antibiotic prescriptions won’t help a viral infection, and can cause harm through side effects and opening the door to bacterial resistance.¹
By establishing care with a PCP, over time you’ll receive better, more effective treatment for your issue. I work hard as a physician to create a judgement-free zone for all patients so they feel comfortable sharing personal details and concerns that would have typically been overlooked. When you build a relationship with someone who knows you and your lifestyle, they can help you make the best choices. When it comes to prescriptions, there’s likely a friend or co-worker who has told you that they got a medication they wanted online without having to spend time with a doctor. But that just isn’t as safe or effective. Does that website really know you and your health journey?
We PCPs think not only of your needs now, but how we can improve your health over an extended period of time by being a partner invested in you. Let’s say you do end up using Urgent Care for something. Once you have a PCP, this information comes back to us, and we’ll be able to pay attention to how many times you have had a bad sore throat or a migraine or a sports injury. Your primary care provider has an impact on your health by bringing your story to a new level--when you have longer term goals, need your health care coordinated across multiple providers/specialists, or have a serious decision to make.
Whatever it is, my primary care colleagues and our healthcare team are here for you. Continuity of care is the gold standard in medicine. It leads to better quality of care, decreased hospitalizations, decreased emergency room visits and improved preventive care for patients.² Adults in the US who have a primary care provider spend less over their lifetime on healthcare, and states with more primary care physicians have higher quality healthcare overall.³ This happens not because we do more procedures, prescribe more medications, or order more tests. The improvements in care happen because we know you, person to person.
Urgent Care facilities and “doctor on demand” apps don't know the whole picture of your health – it may seem easier but ultimately using these instead of having a relationship with a PCP is not the best answer for long-term health. You are more than just the sore throat in Room 3. You are a person with an amazing life ahead, and we can help you be ready for it.
¹JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(9):1267-1269. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.1632
²J Fam Pract. 2004;53(12):974-80.
³Health Affairs Feb. 2019 https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2018.05164
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