Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The rise of express medical care is a new trend, and another option for people who need medical attention in a hurry for conditions that aren’t life-threatening.
But there are some do’s and don’ts when using an urgent care center.
It seems they’re on every corner, and advertised heavily – somewhere to get urgent medical care.
“There are little things – the sprains and the coughs and the colds and the fractures – [that] people don’t really want to go to the emergency department for because … they don’t consider them emergencies, like they’re dying, but they want care,” said Dr. Tracey Smart, an emergency medicine doctor at the UPMC Express in Robinson. “They want to know what’s going on with them.”
It’s not quite the emergency room, and it’s not quite primary care either.
“We aren’t trying to replace either of those, I think we compliment them,” said Dr. Stephen Ritz, a family practice doctor at the MedExpress in Center Township.
Elizabeth Snyder, of Georgetown, Pa., came in because of a car accident.
“The right side of my neck is hurting, my shoulder is burning and my right knee hurts. I didn’t want to go sit at the ER for just pain,” said Snyder. “I don’t think there’s any major injuries, so I came here. I figured it would be faster, too.”
“Ideally, you should be in and out of here … within 45 minutes. That is the goal,” said Shelley Brajercik, the manager of the MedExpress in Center Township.
It’s not somewhere you would go for a life-threatening emergency.
“A month after we opened, had a gentleman in his 60s walk in the door saying I’m having a heart attack,” said Dr. Smart. “We’re able to handle them for the short period of time, get them back into a room, start an IV, give them some aspirin, and call 911.”
Some people come in not to see the doctor, but to get their ordered x-rays or blood tests.
“It’s real close to my house, I drive by it every day,” said John Lynn, of Robinson.
The convenience is definitely a draw.
“Usually mornings are busy and usually evenings are most busy,” said Dr. Ritz. “That’s often times what we see, especially in the evenings, after people get out of work and the doctor’s offices are closed.”
Some centers even have common prescriptions on hand for purchase, since many pharmacies are closed after hours.
You will likely see an emergency medicine or family practice doctor. Sometimes physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners round out the staff.
Other times, it’s a child that needs to be seen urgently – and while most express care centers can handle it, some parents want more.
“It’s children being taken care of by physicians who have pediatric expertise,” said Dr. Ray Pitetti, of Children’s Express Care in Wexford. “That’s not something you’re going to find, at a MedExpress or any of the other facilities. We’re averaging about 10 to 12 kids a night, and of the kids who’ve come in, the vast majority have been seen and treated here in the express care center and sent home. There’ve only been, to my knowledge, two kids who’ve had to go down to Children’s.”
Many facilities have your health records in their system – if you’ve been seen within that system before. But no matter where you get your primary care, you will be seen.
“When you go back to your physician, they will be able to see what I have done as well,” added Dr. Smart.
Most insurances are accepted. But if you don’t have insurance, a flat fee of less than $150 will cover your visit and tests.
Experts stress that those patients in need of chronic care – things like blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, and more – should be followed by their primary care doctor. An express center will not take over that kind of care.
If you think your life is in danger – from a heart attack, a severe wound, a bad allergic reaction – go straight to the emergency room.