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You have twisted your ankle playing pick-up basketball with your friends. Your first thought is where do go I to get the help I need? You can go to an emergency room and wait for hours to see a doctor. These days, your best bet is a free walk in clinic where the wait time and the cost are much lower than a traditional emergency room.

Urgent care centers represent one of the fastest-growing segments within the American healthcare system. Unlike other walk-in clinics such as retail clinics, urgent care centers are generally staffed by a physician and supported by nurses, physician assistants and medical assistants. Sixty-five percent of urgent care centers have at least one physician on-site at all times.

Of the physicians that staff urgent care centers, 47.8% are family medicine, 30.1% are emergency medicine and 7.6% are internal medicine. Urgent care facilities treat a variety of illnesses and sports injuries. Even if you have gone to after hours urgent care, you must still follow up with your doctor to make sure no further treatment is necessary.

Only 29% of primary care doctors have after-hours coverage. Immediate care centers are gaining in popularity because they operate on a walk-in basis, but generally have shorter wait times than emergency rooms. At the same time, they have more convenient hours than physicians’ offices. In the United States 85% of urgent care centers are open seven days a week and over 90% are open to 7 p.m. A free walk in clinic is also over $400 cheaper than a visit to an emergency room.

Urgent care centers are intended to ease the burden on emergency rooms by treating non-life threatening injuries and illnesses. Emergency room visits now number approximately 110 million annually. Often the patient will be instructed to follow up with his or her primary care physician.

A free walk in clinic can be just what you need for your medical emergency. They offer similar care to what you would receive in an emergency room without the high cost and long wait times. If you have been hurt and need immediate attention, seek out your nearest urgent care center. More research here.