Whether it's a minor burn from holiday cooking or an ache from slippery ice, urgent care offices can provide an alternative to waiting for a doctor or braving the hospital emergency room.

Urgent care provides high-quality services for minor injuries and illnesses at convenient locations and often with a shorter wait to see the doctor. Of those patients who go to a hospital ER, about 80 percent could instead go to an urgent care facility, says Steve Lohre, CEO of MED+ Urgent Care & Occupational Health Services in Montgomery.

For major trauma, the ER is the right choice. But breaks, cuts, bruises, and infections can be treated at urgent care. It is an option for those without a primary care physician, or on weekends or during hours an office would be closed.

"Sometimes primary care offices are inundated and can't bump patients or get people in," says Sheri Snively, business manager at Liberty Urgent Care in Liberty Township. "There are times when you can't let a condition go, like a child's earache or asthma "” it will get worse."

"At some clinics, patients are seen by a nurse practitioner, but we always have board-certified physicians in the office," Lohre says of MED+. That means there is often less need for a follow-up visit.

According to a study by the Urgent Care Association of America, 75 percent of physicians working in urgent care facilities are board-certified in a primary specialty, compared to 70 percent of physicians working in primary care.

Plus, in a busy ER, patients with less severe injuries could end up waiting hours to see a doctor.

"In the ER, you have a lot of wait time because they have to take the critical patients first," says Snively, who was previously an ER worker. "It's just overkill if you don't need that kind of expert care."

Lohre, having worked 15 years in the ER himself, recalls staff waiting around for trauma. Plus, hospitals need equipment to treat something as minor as a urinary tract infection, all the way up to an MRI machine. Urgent care, on the other hand, needs less staff and equipment.

"We are very on top of spending, getting supplies and not overstaffing "” we have enough to get our patients treated," Lohre explains.

All About Convenience

Many urgent care facilities are open almost every day of the year. MED+ is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., including weekends. The company does occupational screenings, including physicals and drug screenings, but since most people work during the week, these hours are more convenient. For certain ailments, not waiting a few days to see a doctor can prevent the condition from worsening.

And while slippery streets might be a reason for some to forgo work and hibernate at home, Lohre says he and his staff will be in the office. "We pretty much all drive SUVs," he says. "I'll pick up any employees who don't, because we're always open in bad weather."

Holidays always mean an up-tick in injuries and minor illnesses.

"During the holidays, you have your cold and flu season," Snively says. "And if it's icy, there are always falls. You can tell with the season what the issues are going to be."

Treatment can also be more cost-effective at an urgent care. When Lohre's son recently cut his hand on an airplane propeller, the subsequent ER bill was $300. He estimates the cost would have been half that at an urgent care facility.

Urgent care facilities accept a wide range of healthcare plans, usually including Medicare and Medicaid, and under law cannot turn away any patient, regardless of ability to pay.

"It's all a thing of convenience," Snively says. "It's a faster, cheaper option for care." -