Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care

Before you use an urgent care, learn these top 10 tips.

School’s back in session, which means sick season is approaching quickly! The pure volume of sick visits can be overwhelming for any clinic, whether visits are scheduled or walk in, but the nature of walk in clinics makes the volume unpredictable. Sometimes no one in walks in, other times several come at once. Urgent cares and walk in clinics are wonderful for the overall speed at which one can be seen, but how can you help streamline the process? How can you keep your primary care physician in the loop? Here are my top tips for a successful urgent care trip and knowing when to avoid them.

1.  Write down symptoms.

It sounds crazy to write down things since you know your child better than anyone, but if your child is sick you are probably sleep deprived and might forget important details.

Writing things down helps everyone summarize what is going on and get facts straight. The diagnosis often lies in the history, and if the person bringing the child in does not know symptoms well, it’s difficult to make a proper diagnosis.

This also forces you to think about the symptoms, and you might realize that you don’t know everything that’s going on. This is especially true if your child spends time away from you at school, daycare, or with another parent. It’s better to recognize that you need more of the story before you get to the clinic!

2.  Expect to be seen for one acute problem.

Illnesses typically have more than one symptom despite being a single illness. It’s appropriate to bring a child in for multiple symptoms, such as cough, fever, and sore throat.

It is not appropriate to bring them in for those issues as well as a wart and headache of 3 months off and on. If there are unrelated things, expect to deal with the most acute issue and then follow up with your usual physician to discuss the more chronic things at a scheduled appointment.

The nature of walk in clinics is that they move rapidly. The number of patients checking in at any given time can be large, so each visit must be quick. If you need more time to address many issues or one big condition, schedule an appointment.

3.  Don’t attempt to get care for a chronic issue.

Chronic issues are always best managed by your Primary Care Provider (PCP), but exacerbations of chronic issues might need to be seen quickly.

This means that sudden changes to a condition, such as wheezing in an asthmatic, can be addressed at an urgent care, but routine asthma management should be done during a scheduled visit. Your child can go to the walk in for the wheezing, but should follow up with the PCP with a scheduled appointment to discuss any changes needed to the daily medication regimen (Action Plan) to prevent further wheezing.

This is especially important if you went to another urgent care or ER for initial treatment so that your doctor knows about the recent exacerbation of a chronic issue.

4.  Do not add additional children to the visit.

Many parents bring additional kids to the visit and ask if we can “just take a peek” in their ears.

If you want them to be seen, check them in too. Again, walk in clinics move quickly and the “quick” peek often takes longer than you’d think because the child is running around the room or fighting the exam.

The quick peek also does not allow for documentation of findings in the medical record, which might be helpful in the future.

5.  Have your insurance card and co-payment ready at check in.

Streamline checking in by having everything ready.

It’s surprising to me how many people must return to their car for their wallet. For safety reasons, never leave a purse or wallet in your car.

6.  Try to bring only the child who is being seen.

It is difficult to focus on one sick child when another is running around the room, falling off the exam table, or constantly asking questions. This applies to scheduled as well as walk in visits.

I know this becomes a childcare issue, but it can really help focus on the child being seen if you leave additional children at home if at all possible. Think of friends who always offer to have a play date with the healthy child. Or maybe plan to bring one child when the other is at school.

If you must bring multiple kids, set the stage right by avoiding bringing tired and hungry kids. Don’t come at nap time if at all possible. Tired kids are miserable kids. Give them a healthy snack before going to the clinic. Don’t feed your kids at the office – another child could have a food allergy to whatever you’re feeding them, which can put other kids at risk. Bring books or toys that your kids can be entertained with during the visit.

7. Bring medications your child has recently taken.

Often parents have tried treatments at home, but are not sure what was in the bottle.

Bring all medications to help us advise on correct dosage and use of the medications. This includes prescription medicines as well as over the counter supplements, medicines, and natural therapies.

8. Use your regular doctor’s office if available.

I know not all doctor’s offices have walk in hours and most are not open all night long, but most walk in type visits are not emergent and they can wait until the next business day.

Treating symptoms with home remedies is quite acceptable for most illnesses for a couple days. This might even be beneficial to see how the symptoms change over time. Some kids are brought in at the first sign of fever, and look normal on exam, only to develop cough and earache over the next few days. When the symptoms change, so might the exam and treatments!

This is a very important issue and I’ll write more on it next week. Stay tuned! ***Check out Why Wait to See Your Regular Doctor ****

9.  Please don’t use walk in clinics to have health forms filled out.

I know it is tempting to get a quick physical to get a sports form or work physical signed, but doing so breaks the concept of a medical home.

If you get these forms completed outside your PCP’s office, you don’t get a comprehensive visit. The visit with your PCP should include reviewing growth, development, safety, immunization status, and more. It’s more than just filling out forms. You lose the opportunity to share what has happened in the past year and continue to build a trusting relationship.

If the medical home does all the well visits and vaccines, we have up to date records and can update them as needed. Some kids have missed school because vaccines were missed and they can’t return until they get them. Others have gotten extra doses of vaccines because a record of a shot was missing and parents can’t remember where they got the vaccine.

We request a well visit yearly in the medical home after age 3, more often for infants.  If in need of a well visit, please call the office to schedule!

10. Call first if you’re not sure!

If you’re not sure if it’s okay to tough it out at home overnight, call your doctor’s office.

We can often give tips on how to manage symptoms to save the emergency room co pay and germ exposure. Sometimes we do advise going to be seen. If there are concerns about dehydration, difficulty breathing, mental status changes, or other significant issues, waiting overnight is not appropriate.

Most urgent care visits are really not that urgent. They can be handled during normal business hours in your medical home!

Related posts

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Improper Use of Antibiotics: Don’t take the risk

Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care

Evolution of Illness

Why Wait to See Your Regular Doctor When the Urgent Care is Right There?

Author: DrStuppy

I am a pediatrician and mother of two teens. I have a passion for sharing health related information.

17 thoughts on “Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care”

  1. Great Stuff! Really amazing informative tips on urgent care. All the points are useful. Many many thanks for sharing with us this informative resource. I’m going to share with my social media networks.

    Regards.
    Adam Smith

  2. I like how you suggested writing down all your symptoms before you go to urgent care. I have been feeling sick today and am thinking of stopping by my doctor’s office. Thanks for the tips on going to urgent care.

  3. Thanks for the tip to not being a child in for two ailments that are not related or to expect to have a follow-up with a physician if it’s an acute issue. This is helpful since my daughter has a really bad ear ache last month but also had a hurt index finger that are not related and neither are super serious. I’ll have to find an urgent care center I can go to if she gets an ear ache again, but not to say it’s causing any other pains if they are not related.

  4. It got me when you said the importance of writing the symptoms down so when the person visits the clinic, it will be a lot easier to get a proper diagnosis. I may not know what is going on with me, but at least the doctor does. And if it will help me find out what my illness is by writing down what I have observed, then I will do it. I’ll write things down before I go to the professional for a check.

  5. Making out an appointment for multiple issues can be very helpful, so thanks for putting that in here. I will try and focus any future urgent care visits to just one problem. Who knows? They may just find out more that helps my overall health!

  6. It got me when you said that before taking the person to the urgent care facility, I need to write down the symptoms that I have noticed in order to get a proper diagnosis. I will mention this to my sister since she intends to take her little girl to the urgent care facility. I am sure that she hasn’t written the symptoms that she has seen yet, and since she can be a little forgetful, I think she needs to consider this.

  7. I’m glad you pointed out that you can bring a child to urgent care for multiple symptoms of one illness, but you shouldn’t bring in a child with multiple, unrelated issues and expect to receive care for all of them. It makes sense that because urgent care clinics move quickly, you should only expect to receive care for the most acute issue. I learned some new things about when it’s appropriate to get urgent care, so thanks for sharing this article!

  8. I liked that you mentioned writing the symptoms down. My sister instilled a love of lists in me and I think that they really help to keep the facts straight over time. We’ll be sure to do this with our kids before we take them to urgent care in the future.

  9. I like how you mentioned that we should have our insurance card and payment ready at check-in. It makes sense that a lot of people would forget this and would have to go back to their car. I have been thinking about urgent care lately, so I am happy I read these tips to help me be more prepared if I would need to bring a family member to urgent care. I think it would also be beneficial to find an urgent care hospital ahead of time!

  10. My little brother has a sore throat, so I’ve been thinking I should take him to urgent care. It was especially helpful when you mentioend that I should write down all his symptoms, as it can help make a proper diagnosis. These tips will really help me take my brother to urgent care, so thank you for sharing them.

    1. Great point!

      Always clarify every prescription with the prescriber. Know why it’s chosen, how to use it, side effects to look out for, and what to do if there are problems. One of the problems with many walk in clinics is that there’s no way to call with questions later. If you call your regular doctor, they probably won’t be much help, since they didn’t make the assessment and they aren’t the prescriber. Another great reason to see your usual doctor (PCP) whenever possible.

    2. I really liked the tip that you gave to write down all of the symptoms that your child has been having when you go to an urgent care center. I need to bring my son to urgent care because his fever is getting to be too high. I will be sure to write down all of his symptoms, so there won’t be a chance of forgetting.

  11. Don’t forget this one:
    11. Not every urgent care is equipped to see kids. You may not get the same pediatric expertise compared with seeing your own pediatrician or family medicine doctor in an urgent care.

    1. This is so true! Not even every ER physician feels comfortable with kids. If they’re not used to treating kids, they’re much more likely to over treat so they don’t “miss something” than to be comfortable giving appropriate treatment, which may be over the counter type treatments without a bunch of labs and imaging.

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