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Urgent care or the emergency department?

Know where to go when you are sick or hurt 

IT’S SCARY ENOUGH BEING SICK or hurt and needing medical attention—but the uncertainty of where to go for treatment can add to an already stressful situation. How do you know where you should go for help? 

More than 80% of emergency department visits could be handled by an urgent care facility. Urgent treatment centers (UTC) are walk-in clinics that are either affiliated with a hospital network or run by private companies. You can go to an urgent treatment center if you can’t get in to see your primary care doctor or if you need to be seen by a provider after business hours. Unlike emergency departments, the wait time can be shorter and the cost for treatment is typically much less. 

Urgent treatment centers can also provide imaging and laboratory tests if ordered by your primary care provider. Urgent care centers can give flu shots and other routine immunizations and physicals required by schools, sports or camps. 

Both urgent care centers and emergency departments accept most major insurance plans, but the copay at urgent care might be much lower. The average cost of treatment for a urinary tract infection at a UTC is $112, versus $655 at an emergency department. 

If you need a COVID-19 test, find a local testing site near you at kycovid19.ky.gov. Emergency departments cannot accommodate testing of those with no or mild symptoms.

DR. GENA COOPER is medical director of pediatric emergency medicine at UK HealthCare.

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