An introduction to urgent care and the health care interests of primary care patients

Urgent care is an independent branch of medicine recognised by the Medical Council of New Zealand. RNZCUC defines urgent care as an episodic, no-appointment-necessary primary care service that is covered by RNZCUC’s training programme, and delivered from a RNZCUC-approved urgent care facility.

For patients who want a sore throat checked-out after work, suspect a fracture during Saturday sport, or need an earache soothed overnight, one of the many urgent care clinics around the country are open to help.

Urgent conditions are ones that are not immediately life-threatening, but will require treatment within the next 24 hours. As our training dictates, in the case of any emergency event, which could include signs of heart-attack, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or anything involving significant loss of blood, patients should be directed to call an ambulance – 111 – immediately.

Patients should also be aware of what urgent care facilities are for. Essentially, they’re at hand to take the pressure off ED after-hours – leaving hospital doctors open for acute emergencies. Urgent care also provides support to family practices. In offering an alternative, walk-in service to patients, urgent care allows GPs to focus on their enrolled patients who have pre-booked appointments between set business hours, and peace of mind for GPs if their regulars need support outside those hours.

To be able to hang the urgent care sign over the door, clinics typically need to be open at least between 8am – 8pm, seven days a week. They’ll be fitted with x-ray and other equipment so that they can fix patients’ urgent conditions independently of a hospital.

It’s important to note that urgent care clinics don’t replace local physicians. They don’t have enrolled patients, so are there to help when immediate sickness ocurs, but won’t check up on patients’ health beyond that – details of the visit will be transferred to the patient’s GP. Although it’s affordable, patients need to understand that they may be paying a bit more for the convenience – around 20-90% more expensive than a visit to the GP, and there may be a reasonable wait time for treatment – they will be seen bsed on the ACEM or ABC triage scale.

The RNZCUC acts as the governing body for all urgent care clinics in New Zealand – setting standards and completing audits to ensure communities’ needs are met to a consistent standard. And New Zealand is a country that’s ahead of the game of this. There is a lot of interest from overseas graduates interested in joining RNZCUC’s training programme to gain preparedness in this area of need that perhaps their home countries haven’t recognised as a growth sector yet.

Urgent care centres can be a great place to work – offering flexible hours, plenty of variety and the ability to contribute to New Zealand’s healthcare system in a very meaningful way, helping not only patients, but easing the workload for other GPs and emergency departments too.