What Is an Urgent Care? Definition, Benefits, and When to Visit

Urgent care plays a crucial role in the healthcare system, providing timely and accessible medical care for a wide range of non-life-threatening conditions. 

Have you had a sudden medical problem that wasn’t an emergency but needed immediate care? If yes, you might have thought about urgent care treatment. But what is an urgent care exactly, and what is its role in the health care system?

Urgent care clinics have become a popular health care option as they offer patients a convenient way to receive prompt attention for treatable conditions. Keep reading to learn more about the role of urgent care clinics. Let’s explore their characteristics, benefits, and things you need to consider when choosing one.

Key Takeaways

  • Urgent care is a branch of medicine that offers quick and effective medical care for non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
  • They accept walk-in patients, provide basic medical equipment and in-house diagnostic laboratory services, refer to specialists, and are supervised by qualified medical professionals.
  • Reasons to visit an urgent care clinic include cold/flu, sprains/strains, persistent eye discomfort, breathing difficulties, minor cuts, digestive issues, rashes, and ear pain.
  • Benefits of urgent care clinics include convenience, shorter wait times, lower cost, continuity of care, and quality care.
  • When choosing an urgent clinic, consider location; operating hours; wait times; services/treatments; staff qualifications; and insurance coverage.
what is an urgent care

Urgent Care Definition

Urgent care is a branch of medicine that treats patients quickly and effectively for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses. When it comes to our physical well-being, there are occasions when we absolutely need urgent medical assistance. You might be experiencing a sudden sickness, a bad injury, or a flare-up of a preexisting condition. In any case, access to urgent care is crucial.

Since these facilities are usually available outside of normal business hours, you may get the help you need whenever you need it, such as:

  • Minor illnesses (e.g., headache, sore throat, regular cough)
  • Infections
  • Allergies
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Stomach virus or diarrhea
  • Rashes
  • Minor bone fractures
  • Minor cuts

On top of that, urgent care centers provide basic diagnostic and treatment services, such as:

  • X-rays
  • Laboratory tests
  • Minor surgical procedures

Indeed, the convenience of not needing an appointment is only one of the many benefits of urgent care. You may walk right in and be treated by a professional doctor or nurse. This is particularly useful if you don’t think an emergency room visit is necessary but still need care immediately.

Moreover, the cost of urgent treatment is often lower than that of the emergency room. Those in need of medical assistance but don’t want to break the bank may choose to consider an urgent care facility rather than an emergency hospital.

urgent care characteristics

Characteristics of Urgent Care Clinics

In this section, we’ll delve into the key factors of urgent care clinics, highlighting how they set themselves apart from other healthcare establishments.

  • Accepts Unscheduled Patients: With urgent care clinics, there’s no need to schedule an appointment ahead of time as they gladly welcome walk-in patients at any hour.
  • Several Examination Rooms: Equipped with examination rooms, these clinics can attend to several patients at once. This helps reduce waiting times and ensures that patients receive prompt medical care.
  • Supervised by a Qualified Medical Practitioner: Doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners work at urgent care clinics. These professionals have the skills needed to identify and treat minor medical issues. Plus, they are guided by a qualified medical professional to guarantee that patients get the best care possible.
  • Offers Basic Medical Equipment and In-House Diagnostic Laboratory: These clinics are often well-equipped with basic medical equipment and an in-house diagnostic laboratory. They also provide services like X-rays, EKGs, and wound care. The availability of these amenities allows for quick and accurate diagnoses. It also enables clinics to carry out simple treatments like suturing or incisions.
  • Refers to Specialists: Urgent care facilities can refer patients to specialists when they need specialized care. This assures that patients get the treatment they need beyond what the clinic can offer.

8 Reasons to Visit an Urgent Care Clinic

Despite the rise of urgent care, many are still unaware of the benefits that these clinics offer.

A survey conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians found that out of those who could have received urgent care,

  • 47% believed that hospital emergency care was superior.
  • 31% believed that their symptoms indicated a medical emergency.
  • 19% were not familiar with the concept of urgent care.

Thus, it’s important to understand why visiting an urgent care clinic can be a wise decision. Let’s go over the top reasons individuals consider visiting urgent care clinics.

  1. Cold and Flu: These clinics can provide prompt treatment for cold and flu symptoms. They can also provide advice on managing symptoms and preventing the spread of the virus.
  2. Sprains and Strains: Urgent care clinics are the go-to destination for addressing unexpected mishaps, like accidents, and offer a range of solutions, such as X-rays and pain management options to alleviate discomfort.
  3. Persistent Eye Discomfort: Urgent care clinics are equipped to handle various eye ailments, providing vision screenings and necessary treatments. 
  4. Moderate Breathing Difficulties: For respiratory issues, urgent care clinics offer nebulizer treatments and medications to help with mild to moderate breathing difficulties. 
  5. Minor Cuts: For cuts and lacerations, they can expertly clean and stitch them up, even providing tetanus shots if necessary.
  6. Digestive Issues: If you’re experiencing digestive problems like diarrhea or abdominal pain, these clinics can provide quick diagnosis and emergency medicine options.
  7. Rashes: Urgent care clinics can also provide treatment for various types of rashes. This may include results from allergic reactions and insect bites. They can prescribe medications to reduce itching and inflammation.
  8. Ear Pain: These clinics can help diagnose and treat ear infections and other ear-related issues. They also often provide ear flushing and earwax removal services.

Benefits of Urgent Care Clinics

urgent care benefits

Urgent care clinics are becoming a preferred choice for many patients, thanks to the array of advantages they provide. Let’s take a closer look.


Urgent care clinics are usually located in accessible areas and offer extended hours. This makes it easier for patients to receive medical care without having to schedule appointments or take time off work.

Shorter Wait Times

Unlike emergency rooms, where patients often have to wait for hours to receive care, urgent care clinics have shorter wait times.

Lower Cost

Urgent care clinics are less expensive than emergency rooms. This makes them an affordable option for patients who do not have insurance.

Continuity of Care

Urgent care clinics often work with your primary care providers. They can provide follow-up care and referrals to specialists when needed. This helps ensure that patients receive appropriate care for their medical conditions.

Quality Care

Urgent care clinics hire licensed healthcare professionals. These include physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. These professionals have specialized training to provide high-quality medical care for a wide range of medical conditions.

How to Choose an Urgent Care Clinic

Here are some important factors to keep in mind when choosing an urgent care clinic:


When choosing an urgent care clinic, location is an important factor to consider. The clinic should be within a reasonable distance from your home or workplace.

A good rule of thumb is to choose a clinic that is within a 45-minute driving distance. This will ensure that you can quickly seek medical attention when necessary.

Operating Hours

Urgent care clinics have varying hours of operation, so consider a clinic that is open when you need it. Look for a clinic that offers extended hours. Some may also operate during weekends or holidays.

Wait Times

Waiting too long to receive care can be frustrating, so look for a clinic that has shorter wait times or offers appointments or the ability to check in online. After all, it is one of the main reasons why patients opt for urgent care services instead of ER visits. 

Services and Treatments

Most clinics offer treatments and services that cater to minor injuries and illnesses. While some clinics provide a complete range of services, others offer only basic care. That’s why it’s essential to do some research before selecting a clinic.

Staff Qualifications

Each clinic may have a variety of staff members with different qualifications. If you have a child that needs medical attention, verify if there is someone from the clinic that specializes in pediatric urgent care.

Insurance Coverage

Check if the urgent care clinic accepts your insurance coverage. This can save you money on out-of-pocket costs or any unexpected bills.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between urgent and emergency care?

Urgent care facilities treat medical conditions or injuries that are not life-threatening. The emergency department is for severe, life-threatening emergencies. 

What are the most common urgent care visits?

The most common urgent care visits include a variety of non-life-threatening medical conditions. This may include cold and flu symptoms, minor injuries, and minor illnesses. Patients also visit urgent care facilities for diagnostic tests and imaging services.

How long has urgent care been around?

The emergence of urgent care clinics dates back to the 1970s in the United States.

Are urgent care needs covered by insurance companies?

In general, insurance companies do cover urgent care needs. But, the coverage may vary depending on the specific insurance plan. Check with your insurance provider to understand your coverage before seeking urgent care.

Final Thoughts

Urgent care is always available to help you if you can’t wait for your primary care doctor. Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is urgent care?” you know it’s a facility with medical professionals trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of illnesses or injuries. 

With shorter wait times and lower costs than emergency rooms, urgent care is great for those seeking quick and affordable medical attention.