I just completed my four-week outpatient sub-internship in urgent care, and I must admit that prior to this rotation, I did not know exactly what purpose urgent care served. Over the past four weeks through many provider complaints about what was unnecessarily getting triaged to them, I have learned what urgent care is and what it is not.
First, urgent care is not the same as the emergency department. Although we do handle traumatic injuries and can treat straightforward acute conditions such as kidney stones, UTIs, STDs, infections, etc., we do not have the capacity for further workup of complicated situations. For example, we can suture up simple lacerations, but if there is concern that someone incurred head or abdominal injury, we lack CT scanning for a pan scan. The only imaging modality available in our urgent care was an x-ray, so if anyone required CT or MRI imaging, they were directed to the ED. Additionally, I was surprised to find that we could run CBCs, but not comprehensive metabolic panels.
Second, urgent care is not primary care. Many patients came in for follow up of chronic conditions or to get medication refills, and we would give them a short course of medication before instructing that they need to follow up with their primary care physician. It seems as if many people do not know what purpose urgent care serves, and I don’t blame them as I was previously unaware as well. I learned that family medicine physicians who work in urgent care are strict urgent care doctors, and do not have primary care practices. It is interesting considering there is no fellowship for urgent care, yet family medicine physicians can make an entire career out of it.