7 URGENT Questions to Consider When Choosing an Urgent Care
With over 7,000 urgent care centers across the U.S., it goes without saying that the urgent care market is booming. And it’s easy to see the appeal. As health care costs continue to rise, urgent care facilities provide an attractive alternative to the high price tags and long waits at emergency rooms.
In our Northern Colorado stomping grounds, the exponentially rising population is only adding fuel to the already roaring urgent care industry – spurring the development of more urgent care and related facilities that range from hospital-affiliated and independent urgent care centers to retail clinics and freestanding ERs. (Fun fact: the Front Range now has 50 freestanding ER departments, the third largest number of these facilities in the nation.)
With this overwhelming proliferation of options in our area, it can be difficult and downright confusing for patients to know where to go for fast, convenient, and affordable urgent care services.
So, based on our interactions with patients and long history providing both primary and urgent care throughout Fort Collins, Loveland, and Windsor, we’ve compiled a list of the most urgent (wink, wink) questions you should consider when choosing a facility for your immediate, non-emergency, and after-hours care needs.
1. Do they take my insurance?
There’s just no way around it. Medical care can be costly, even when you do have insurance. To avoid an unexpected bill and big out-of-pocket costs, be sure to select an urgent care facility that’s in-network for your insurance plan. Just ask your insurance provider for a list of in-network urgent cares near you.
“Quality urgent care centers accept a wide variety of insurance plans,” says David Schmidt, MD, a physician at the Associates in Family Medicine CSU Office. “Our CSU Urgent Care and Horsetooth Urgent Care accept the same broad range of insurance plans as our primary care facilities so patients aren’t limited or restricted in being able to receive the care they need.”
2. How much is it going to cost me?
When it comes to paying for urgent care services, insurance is just one of several factors in determining your costs. It’s also important to know whether the facility you’re considering is in fact an urgent care or one of the many freestanding ERs popping up across Colorado. Don’t rely on Google Maps to direct you to the nearest “urgent care,” only to receive an ER-sized bill down the road. This is a mistake many people have learned the hard way. Now, due to newly passed legislation, Colorado patients should be able to avoid this costly error – as long as they stay mindful of where they seek care.
“We know that emergency care is very expensive,” says Shelley Moore, MD, an AFM physician at our Horsetooth Urgent Care. “We try to keep the costs down and keep patients out of the hospital as much as possible by helping them stay healthy.” She continues, “We also serve as an extension of our patients’ primary care – connecting them and communicating with their primary doctor to eliminate redundancies, confusion, or added tests and costs.”
According to Dr. Moore, choosing an urgent care with onsite pharmacy services is yet another way patients can experience lower costs. “Through our Horsetooth Urgent Care pharmacy, patients get reasonably priced prescriptions for important medications,” she says. “This is especially beneficial for the increasing number of patients on high-deductible plans who typically have to pay out of pocket for their prescriptions.”
3. Can I get seen easily… without waiting an hour or more?
Without a doubt, convenience is a key ingredient in the urgent care model. And there are definitely a few ways to maximize your time and still get great quality care.
First, choose a location with extended weekday and weekend hours to accommodate those inevitable and inconvenient sprains, pains, coughs, and colds when your primary doctor isn’t available.
Second, select an urgent care that’s part of your larger care network. By visiting an urgent care that is affiliated with your primary care provider or is electronically linked to a broader network of care facilities in your area, you can save time that would otherwise be spent filling out lengthy medical history forms. “By using the dominant electronic medical records (EMR) system in our region,” explains Dr. Schmidt, “AFM urgent cares can immediately access patient records, have real-time communication between our offices, and maintain direct access to other specialists, nurses, and providers – helping us see and treat patients more quickly and seamlessly.”
And of course, find a facility that’s staffed adequately. It’s okay to ask questions about how many providers are available and what that means for your estimated wait time. Successful urgent care facilities are prepared to staff in accordance with changing patient volumes and seasonal variations. “Our urgent cares have up to three providers on at all times to keep the waiting room as empty as possible,” says Dr. Moore. “We also have providers on call 24x7 to support busier-than-usual times.”
4. Can they easily connect me with my primary doctor or other specialists and services in my area?
Choosing an urgent care that is well integrated with a wide range of primary and specialty care services in your area isn’t just a time-saver for you upfront; it can also ensure smooth follow-ups, fewer tests, and more effective care as time goes on.
“Through our integrated care model between our urgent care and primary care offices, as well as our sophisticated EMR, we can really deliver continuity of care for our patients,” says Dr. Schmidt.
“Our system also makes it extremely easy for patients to electronically access their medical records and results,” Dr. Moore adds. “And as urgent care providers, we can then connect patients with the services that meet their ongoing medical needs, sharing their records with pharmacists, DOs, acupuncturists, sports medicine docs, specialists, and even social workers to support mental health and wellness.”
5. What services and credentials do they provide?
Know the level of care you can expect by doing a little digging into the specific kinds of services and expertise a facility provides. Find out whether they offer X-rays and onsite laboratory and pharmacy services. You can also expect a higher level of skill and care from facilities staffed with board-certified physicians, physician’s assistants, and nurse practitioners. And some urgent care locations will offer primary care services in addition to treatment for sudden injuries and illnesses.
AFM’s three urgent care facilities have digital X-ray and point-of-care testing for a wide variety of lab tests and illnesses, in addition to onsite pharmacy services. In regards to staff, all providers are vetted and board certified, and our physician assistants and nurse practitioners work directly with physicians. And when it just can’t wait, our urgent care locations deliver primary care as a convenient and immediate alternative to a scheduled office visit.
6. Will they treat me like a person or a number?
Evaluating the care philosophy and approach of your urgent care center can have bigger impacts and implications than you might think. To find fast and convenient care that doesn’t skimp on quality and compassion (or result in more costly follow-ups, procedures, and testing for you in the long run), consider the mission and vision of the urgent care provider or company.
“Yes, AFM urgent cares have all of the high-quality testing, clinical tools, and knowledge our patients need,” Dr. Schmidt shares. “But we also deliver the same comprehensive, whole-patient approach as our primary care locations – listening to patients and avoiding cookie-cutter health care. We’re still your personal family doctors,” he continues, “Just in a more convenient, immediate setting.”
7. What is their reputation in the community?
To cement your decision about the best urgent care near you, look into the history of the facility or health care company within your local community. Choosing a care option that is firmly rooted in your area with a solid reputation will give you added peace of mind.
“There’s nothing more important to us than your families and your health,” says AFM’s Dr. Moore. “That’s why we’ve been at this so long, serving the Northern Colorado community for over 50 years and committing ourselves to providing top-quality care with the level of convenience, affordability, and overall attentiveness that our patients want and need.”