13 Things Urgent Care Center Docs Won’t Tell You

Updated: Nov. 03, 2020

We're always here to help you—but we're not always the help you need.


Make sure you’re in the right place

ER or urgent care? Always head to the ER for chest pain, severe bleeding, difficulty breathing, a neurological issue such as a seizure, or a serious head trauma with loss of consciousness. Here are the things ER doctors wish they could tell you.

medicine, healthcare and technology concept - doctor showing tablet pc computer to patient at hospital
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We can see you early

The next time your regular doctor says it will be months before you can get an appointment, we may be able to help. Many urgent care centers offer STD tests, school and sports physicals, adult vaccinations, Pap smears, skin allergy treatments, and more. Learn the harmful habits doctors really wish you would stop doing.

Doctor (gynecologist or psychiatrist) consulting and diagnostic examining woman patient's health in medical clinic or hospital healthcare service center

Some call us lazy

Some primary care docs don’t like us because they say we skim the easy work and avoid responsibility for more complex matters. For instance, we’ll sew up the laceration on an inebriated person, but we won’t address bigger issues like alcoholism and high blood pressure.

Ambulance van on highway

Coming here by mistake can be costly

Sorry, you won’t save money if you come here when you really need to go to the ER. If we transfer you by ambulance to the hospital, you may be responsible for co-pays at both places, plus the ambulance ride, which can double your fee.

money wallet

If you’re paying cash, don’t be afraid to negotiate on price

We may be able to reduce your bill, but there has to be a reason. Some urgent care centers even have special cards you can purchase that guarantee you a discount at every single visit. Here are some more simple ways you can reduce your hospital costs.

Healthcare, medical: Group of multi-ethnic doctors discuss and looking x-ray in a clinic or hospital

All urgent care centers are not created equal

Some can handle only basic ailments: sore throats, simple wounds, colds, and coughs; they don’t have an X-ray machine or a lab. Others can take on diagnoses and tests.

Dozens of prescription medicine bottles in a jumble. This collection of pill bottles is symbolic of the many medications senior adults and chronically ill people take.
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Our free samples could cost you later

We’re happy to give you a sample of the latest drug for your treatment. But that tends to be the most expensive. Ask for a less pricey but equally effective option so you can refill your prescription with ease. Here are some more secrets hospitals won’t tell you, but every patient needs to know.

Doctor and patient are discussing about diagnosis. Medical doctor on white background holding a stethoscope, looking at medical form and taking notes.

Not all our suggestions are good ideas

If I suggest a specific test or procedure, ask whether you really need it and what it will cost. To protect us from potential lawsuits, our clinic guidelines may require us to suggest various treatments even when they’re not really needed. Here’s how to tell if you need a cortisone shot.

Young female receptionist talking on the phone in hospital
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Make a reservation

To save time, call to see if you can get on the waiting list before you come. Some centers will send you a text message 30 minutes before someone can see you. Learn some more tips that will help you make the most of your next doctor’s appointment.

Beautiful doctor in blue scrubs is covering her face while standing in hospital corridor
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Very few of our doctors start in urgent care

Many are burned-out ER or primary care doctors looking for less stress and easier hours. Don’t miss the differences between an MD and a DO you’ll want to know.

From above photo of hands of cropped men doctor holding pills.

We are desperate to please

Because we’re partially judged by patient-satisfaction scores, we’re under pressure to please. So if you want a steroid shot or an antibiotic for your cold, we’ll probably give it to you, even if it’s not necessary. The one thing we’re stingy about? Narcotic pain medications, since we know drug dealers can sell them. Learn the secrets your pharmacist won’t tell you.


Even if there’s a doctor on-site, you may never see him or her

Most urgent care centers are staffed with physician assistants and nurse-practitioners; typically, a doctor is consulted for complicated cases. Here are the secrets nurses wish they could tell you.

Beautiful nurse, washes his hands before the procedure,wiped his hands dry

We don’t have time to sanitize our waiting room after every patient

If you’re coming in at the height of flu season, stay safe by asking for a mask and using the hand sanitizer we have out. Here are some more etiquette rules you should always follow while visiting the hospital.

Sources: Ryan Welter, MD, PhD, of Tristan Medical Primary Care Centers in Massachusetts; Richard Young, MD, of Fort Worth, Texas; Gerry Cvitanovich, of MHM Urgent Care in Louisiana; Mitchel Schwindt, MD, author of The Patient’s Guide to Urgent Care and the Emergency Room; and Abimbola Fasusi, PA-C, physician assistant for Metro Immediate & Primary Care in Washington, DC.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest