People who get sick or injured and can't get an appointment to see their primary care doctor right away have a few different options available for care. These include the in-store clinics at certain drugstores, urgent care centers, and emergency rooms. However, not all of these options are suitable for getting care for any given health problem.

True Emergencies

The emergency room is best for those with true emergencies, meaning a problem that might be life-threatening and can't wait for hours to get an appointment to see a doctor in another location. Up to 50 percent of emergency room visits could safely be treated in another setting. Certain symptoms merit an immediate visit to the ER, perhaps with ambulance transportation to get there. These include allergic reactions, unconsciousness, deep cuts where the bone or tendons are visible or that won't stop bleeding, constant vomiting, badly broken bones (such as compound fractures where the bone is sticking out), chest pain, severe shortness of breath, head injuries, and pain or weakness in an arm or leg. These are all potential signs of a life-threatening condition, such as a heart attack or stroke, or very serious injuries.

Urgent Issues

For those conditions that aren't true emergencies but for which you can't wait until you can get an appointment with your primary care doctor, walk-in clinics may be the answer. The cheapest option to deal with a minor medical issue is typically an in-store clinic, with an average cost of about $110. An urgent care center is much cheaper than visiting the ER for most people, with an average cost of $156 compared to $570. Compare this to a visit to your doctor's office at about $166. In general, it's best to go to the doctor's office when possible, as they have all your medical records and keep a continuous care record. However, walk-in clinics can be a good option when the doctor's office isn't open or can't squeeze you in for an appointment in a timely manner. In-store clinics tend to be staffed mainly by nurses who can prescribe medications rather than doctors, so they're best for routine tests, vaccinations, school or camp physicals, and treating colds and seasonal allergies. Urgent care centers don't all offer the same services, but typically deal with minor cuts, flu, broken bones, sprains, sore throat, painful urination, ear pain, fevers not accompanied by rashes, and diarrhea. They're supervised by doctors, but people with relatively minor issues may be seen by nurses or physician assistants. Some urgent care centers may also be able to take EKGs or CAT scans, but not all have this capability, so call ahead or visit an ER instead if you think you may need these types of tests.

Contact a center like West Ocean City Injury & Illness Center to learn more.