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Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care

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!

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By DrStuppy

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

45 replies on “Top 10 Tips for Going to an Urgent Care”

I found it interesting when you said to write down symptoms. My husband is wanting to find an urgent care clinic to go to for his cold. I’ll make sure to pass these tips along to him as he searches for one to go to.

I appreciated it when you mentioned that it is best to write down all the symptoms that your child has before seeing a physician at an urgent care center. My wife and I are worried about our daughter who keeps on falling sick lately, especially when the school has opened which probably because she mingles with a lot of other kids. I think it would be great if I find a reliable urgent care center and I will keep in mind to write down all her symptoms so the process will be faster.

You made a good point that writing down the symptoms will make things a lot faster when having to explain one’s condition in an urgent care center. My friend’s kid has been doing soccer drills at home recently in order to not fall behind on his training while his school is still closed. I can see how knowing the where the nearest urgent care center is would be helpful in making sure that he stays safe when training.

I like your suggestion to have our insurance information ready and make sure we don’t leave it in the car. I want to find an urgent care to go to after work tonight because I think I might have an ear infection. Thanks for sharing these tips I can keep in mind to help the visit go as smoothly as possible!

I agree that writing your symptoms down can help you get your facts right. I understand that doing this can help you know how to communicate with a doctor. We just moved and need to find an urgent care center and need to know how to properly work with them.

It never helps to be prepared! If you haven’t found a primary care physician yet, do that. You can see what they recommend for after hours care – asking when you establish care is better than trying to figure it out in an urgent situation!

I didn’t know before that you should bring the medications that you have taken to an urgent care center when you go. My wife and I have been talking about finding an urgent care center for our son because his fever isn’t going down, and it will be important for us to know that we could find the right one for when we do. I will be sure to consider the medications that he has taken when we find one.

Thank you for stating that you should avoid bringing tired or hungry kids to the urgent care. My daughter fell off her bike and cut her arm, and I’m thinking of taking her to an urgent care in case she needs stitches. I will definitely keep all of your great tips and information in mind if I do end up taking my daughter to an urgent care.

It’s interesting to know that it’s appropriate to bring a child in for multiple symptoms, such as cough.fever, and sore throat. My husband and I find an urgent care facility and we are looking for advice about what types of illnesses they treat. I will let my husband read this article to help him understand what kind of illnesses can be treated at an urgent care facility.

Thank you for your tip to write down the symptoms that the sick person is experiencing. I have gone to the hospital before and not done that and forgotten vital information. I will make sure to keep this tip in mind next time I go to an after hour care facility.

Thank you for stating that you should try to bring only the child who is being seen when going to urgent care. My daughter just got hurt, and I need to take her to an urgent care. I will definitely take all of your great tips and information into consideration so that I can successfully bring my daughter into an urgent care.

I liked your suggestion of writing down what your symptoms are before going to a health clinic. That does seem like alike an easy thing to forget when you are getting asked question. After all, telling the doctor all of your symptoms can help them make you feel better faster.

Thanks for helping me understand that it would help if we write down the symptoms that we have noticed since it will help get the right diagnosis. With that in mind, I will write down everything this evening since I need to take my son to a doctor tomorrow. This is for the rashes that he has been having making it hard for him to sleep right now.

This is so true. I agree that we need to keep focused on the acute issue, but sometimes my pcp wont do anything to really help my child with her chronic health issue. And so I bring it up in hopes that maybe a new doctor will look at it a different way.

If you feel like your PCP isn’t taking care of the chronic issue, schedule a visit to talk about the chronic issue specifically without distractions of acute issues, so when otherwise well. These are recommended routinely anyway for chronic conditions such as asthma or anything else that requires medications to be sure the medicine is working properly. If the condition is out of the scope of practice for your PCP, then a specialist should manage. This will vary depending on the PCP’s level of comfort. Then there are chronic issues that the PCP often doesn’t realize are issues. I can think of many times families bring up something at a well visit, then deal with it for months without ever coming back to discuss it. I most likely forgot about the constipation, back pain, headache or whatever it was, but then they call demanding something be done because “it’s been too long”. From the parent perspective this is a chronic problem that hasn’t been addressed. From my perspective it was a minor issue that was brought up at a well visit and I haven’t heard about since, so presume it’s better. The best answer is always communication.

I thought it was interesting how the article said to write symptoms down to summarize what is going on and get facts straight before visiting urgent care. My brother has a daughter who has a lot of semi-serious food allergies, so they have been looking for a good urgent care facility that they can go to in case of an emergency. It seems that it would be beneficial for my brother to write down her symptoms when she eats the food she is allergic to before they take her into the doctors.

Food allergies are potentially life threatening emergencies. People with significant food allergies should carry epinephrine and call 911 when they have a reaction. They should use their epinephrine immediately and then call 911. An urgent care is not an appropriate place to go in case of a life-threatening emergency.

I like your suggestion to write down our child’s symptoms beforehand to summarize what’s been going on and make sure everyone has the facts straight. My daughter has a fever and I want to take her to urgent care soon. I wasn’t sure if I needed to do anything to prepare, so thanks for the tip to write down her symptoms before we go.

It’s interesting to learn more about going to an urgent care. I like how you said that they don’t offer routine chronic pain help should be left to a scheduled visit. Still, just walking in and getting treatment at an urgent care is a pretty cool idea.

I appreciate what you said about changing symptoms and how this may call for a different kind of exam or treatment. Visiting an urgent care is a great way to ensure that you or your child receives a prescription to necessary medications. My wife and I are planning on moving within the next year, so I’ll be sure to locate an urgent care center that can administer proper treatment when we need it.

Thanks for these tips! I love that this list starts with Write Down Symptoms. I would add “Write Down Questions,” too. I hate getting home and then remembering a question I wanted to ask and then the unanswered question really starts nagging at me. Also, I get why you wouldn’t go to urgent care for a chronic condition normally, but I would say one exception to the rule is that some urgent care providers seem to offer 1-2 additional speciality services. I went to an urgent care clinic in my neighborhood for my physical therapy, for example, and had a really great experience.

If an urgent care also offers specialty services, that’s a different thing all together. In your example of going to physical therapy, you’re simply using a physical therapy group in the same physical space as the urgent care. I would hope that you go on a regular basis so you can work with the therapist and recover. In this situation, the PT group is in the same location (and possibly owned by the same company) but it is not serving as an urgent care. You should also look at the credentials of the provider you are seeing. If you’re going to an urgent care, be sure that the provider is skilled and trained appropriately to treat whatever you’re seeing. For example, if I moonlighted in an urgent care, I’m not trained to see adults. This can be difficult to assess in an urgent care setting.

I agree that you should go to an urgent care facility for an acute problem. You want to visit one in order to get quick care and treatment, like you said. You should go to a different facility if you have a chronic issue, like you also mentioned.

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.

Adam Smith

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

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!

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.

I would add, if you are given antibiotics, ask what they are for. They will not help a cold or non strep sore throats..

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.

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.

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.

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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