How to Get the Most Out of Your Urgent Care Visit

Some of these tips may also apply to any doctor’s visit

By Eva Briggs, MD

First, is the urgent care the right place for your problem?

Many urgent care facilities have a minimum age restriction. A local medical clinic or doctors office may offer different diagnostic tests. There isn’t a mandated list of blood tests or imaging studies that every urgent care must offer.

Most can do basic X-rays, strep tests and simple labs. If you think that you need a certain test, call ahead to ask. Even if your doctor tells you to go to the urgent care for a specific test, call and ask. Many doctors don’t realize what is — or is not — available.

In the words of an old Russian proverb, trust but verify.

One hospital system in Florida came up with some clever billboards to advertise who should go to an urgent care versus an emergency department. You can see some of these signs at this link https://tinyurl.com/9zs59ycu

Have a list of your medications and their doses. If you need help, ask your pharmacist or prescriber for assistance. It won’t help if all you know is that you are taking “a little white pill.” There are many many “little white pills!” Keep your list up to date. Remove old medicines. Add new ones. Update any dose changes. Keep your list legible. Scrawled handwriting, multiple crossed-out lines with new information squeezed in with tiny writing in the margins or between lines are difficult or impossible to decipher. What you should know about medicine? Learn why each medicine is prescribed. Ask your doctor what each treats if you are unsure. Some medicines are used for more that one condition. For example, Tegretol (carbamazepine) treats epilepsy, bipolar disease and trigeminal neuralgia.

Make a list of your allergies. Again, ask for help from your pharmacist or provider if you are not sure.

Know what medical problems and surgeries you have had. Remember that even if your disease is controlled — such as blood pressure — it still belongs in your medical problem list. When we ask about surgery, remember that doesn’t include only recent surgery. The gastric bypass that you had 10 years ago may be more relevant to your care than the benign mole removal that you had last month.

Many people don’t know the name of their primary care provider or the specialists that they see. If you can’t remember their names, ask for their business card or an appointment card, or write the information on your medication/allergy list.

I can’t count how many times people come in for a problem related to recent surgery and can’t remember who did the surgery or where their office is located. Or they can remember the doctor’s last name, but it’s a common last name, and they don’t know the first or office location. A quick Google search revealed at least seven medical providers with the last name Kim, and at least seven named Singh, in Onondaga County!

Even in 2021, different electronic medical records don’t communicate with one another. While your information may be all in your chart, the urgent care likely uses a different system and won’t be able to see your medical data.

Dress in clothes that you can remove easily if needed for an exam. For example, if your knee hurts, avoid tight leggings that you must struggle to remove. If your back hurts, the doctor might ask you to remove your pants to check the sensation, strength, and reflexes in your legs. Remember to wear underwear if you are not comfortable changing into a gown without underwear.

Because we are in a pandemic, you will need to wear a mask when you are at a medical facility. The mask must cover your mouth and nose and fit snugly enough to prevent gaping or falling off. It should be a surgical mask, a cloth mask with two or more layers of fabric and a nose wire on top, a KN-95, or an N-95.

Don’t use a mask with an exhalation valve. Bandanas, neck gaiters and crocheted or knitted masks are not be effective or appropriate. And please don’t roll your eyes when I ask you to wear your mask properly over your mouth and nose.

There is currently a shortage of medical personnel. Even if you are not worried about yourself, please don’t unnecessarily expose me and my co-workers to contagious diseases. There won’t be anyone to staff the urgent care if someone is out due to illness.

Stay safe out there, but when the unexpected illness or injury happens, the urgent care (or emergency room) is there for you.

Eva Briggs is a retired medical doctor who practiced in Central New York for several decades. She lives in Marcellus.