Lots of medical problems need prompt attention—probably sooner than you can get an appointment with a physician—but aren’t serious enough to need a visit to a hospital emergency room.
For nonemergencies, there’s a third option: urgent-care centers. Most of these are open seven days a week, take patients on a walk-in basis, and treat minor ailments such as ear infections, strep throat, lacerations, even some fractures.
The level of treatment varies at the more than 50 urgent-care centers in the Washington area. At Medics USA Medical Center near DC’s Dupont Circle, walk-in patients generally see a physician’s assistant, while those with appointments see a doctor. At CVS’s MinuteClinic, with ten area locations, patients are diagnosed and treated by nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. Prices for treating common illnesses at these two places range from $62 to $145.
“The nurses have strict limitations,” says Linda Thompson, a family-practice physician in Bethesda. “But they know their boundaries and will quickly send someone to the emergency room.”
Dr. Thompson helped organize the adult-care practice at the Nighttime Care Center in Rockville, which has nurses, physician’s assistants, and doctors on staff. Like most urgent-care centers, Nighttime offers flu shots and can prescribe medicines and fill prescriptions.
Walk-In Medical Care’s three Northern Virginia locations offer everything from hearing exams to lab testing for mononucleosis, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and more. Patients just need a photo ID and an insurance card.
Urgent-care centers and similar clinics best serve people by diagnosing them, says Dr. Thompson: “The average person doesn’t have medical training, so they may not realize how sick they are. These clinics act like a triage unit for doctors and can send people to the right place.”