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FOX Medical Team

Urgent care centers gaining in popularity

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ATLANTA -

Urgent care has become big business. There are now about 8,000 urgent care centers in the United States, with about 180 providers in the metro Atlanta area. They are banking on patients willing to pay more for fast care.

David Katz thought he sprained his finger  playing soccer, but a week and half later it started to look crooked.

Katz works at Emory University and has health insurance, but he didn't want spend hours in the emergency room.  His own doctor was booked for days, so he turned to North Atlanta Urgent Care.

"In fact, in this case it's probably going to cost me more to get the x-ray here, but since I'm really, really busy, getting it done quickly is important to me," Katz said.

With emergency rooms stretched to the limit -- and the shortage of primary care doctors growing -- urgent care centers are opening all over metro Atlanta to fill in the gap.

It makes sense:  the average ER wait time can be 4 to 5 hours; most urgent cares promise to get you in and out in about an hour.

North Atlanta Urgent Care's Dr. Andy Van Horn said they're staffed by emergency physicians and open weekends, evenings and holidays when your doctor is not.

"The overall visit is a lot less expensive than an emergency department, a lot more convenient than sometimes your primary care doctor because we see primarily walk-in patients," Van Horn said. "We don't take any appointments. Any time a patient wants to be seen, they're welcome to come in."

You'll pay more for urgent care than your average doctor's visit -- about $125 to $150 for a visit – but much less than the average ER visit.

At Well Street Urgent Care in Buckhead, medical director Nelson Yuen said what they're selling is good care and convenience.

"We know people's time is valuable, and if we don't do a good job there, people will walk.  They'll go to a different center," said Yuen.

But how do you know if you should go to the ER or urgent care?

"You know, there are something that are clearly going to be an ER-type visit: You're having a stroke.  You're can't move your side.  You have crushing chest pain.  You have severe, severe abdominal pain," Yuen said.

Dr. Yuen said some things are better fit for urgent care.

"They're going to be, you sprained your ankle. You have a cut on the arm.  You have a cough, you have a sore throat. These are all things that the ER is perfectly capable of handling, but that's not what they're designed for," Yuen said.

Back at North Atlanta Urgent Care, Katz got good news: his finger was not broken and it didn't take all day to figure that out.
      
To find an urgent care, ask around, or do an online search and read the patient reviews.

Before you go in, call the clinic and find out how busy they are and how long you'll have to wait.

Also, check with your insurance plan or HMO to find out if they cover urgent care visits. If they do, you may have to pay as little as $30 to $60.

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