Urgent care is a vital alternative to emergency rooms

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Where do you take your child for care when she's got a fever and it's 7 on a Friday night?

Five years ago, many people would go to a hospital's emergency room to care for fevers, coughs and colds. The wait times would be four hours or more. People with serious life-threatening conditions would be sitting alongside people with bumps, bruises and headaches.

Emergency rooms are typically a catch-all, especially for people without health insurance. It's a safety net, but also too easy to misuse. It's a system that can't sustain itself because of the cost of care and demands of the county's growing population.

With the Affordable Care Act the healthcare landscape continues to change.

Today, emergency rooms are much different. That's one of the main changes I've seen in my medical career, especially over the last year. Today, more people have health insurance, and emergency rooms are beginning to be used the way they were designed, for emergencies. And when that happens, costs go down, and the quality of care goes up.

Now the question becomes where do you go when you aren't facing an emergency situation, but you need to get in to see a doctor immediately?

If you're like a growing number of people, you don't have to go very far. When you have a non-emergency medical issue, you have the option to go to a community urgent care facility.

Community urgent care facilities are an important piece of the health care puzzle. When your condition is less serious, but still requires immediate attention, choosing an urgent care can save you time and money, as well as keeping the emergency room free to handle more serious situations. Urgent cares can provide treatment for coughs, colds, sore throats, ear infections, flu-like symptoms, sprains, strains and more.

With convenient locations and walk-in access to care, urgent care centers offer access to skilled doctors and offer extended hours that can accommodate more patients' busy schedules.

By the end of 2016, Hoag will operate several urgent care facilities conveniently located throughout Orange County, including in Aliso Viejo, Anaheim Hills, Huntington Beach, Huntington Harbour, Irvine, Tustin and Newport Beach. Many are located in shopping centers and other non-traditional locations to bring health and wellness options to people where they live and work. The newest locations coming soon are Hoag Urgent Care Irvine – Sand Canyon, across the street from Hoag Hospital Irvine and a HMG Primary Care and Urgent Care center at Los Olivos Marketplace in Irvine.

These facilities are a great way for patients to find some peace of mind knowing that the doctors and medical professionals they will be seeing are affiliated with a trusted and nationally recognized health care leader.

The urgent care wave is getting bigger by the day. And that is good news.

Today, community urgent care facilities offer you a chance to get your medical concerns addressed in a more timely way. We are listening to the demands of the community and bringing you the access to health care that you deserve and want.

JEFF BRANDT, M.D., Ph.D, is medical director of Hoag Medical Group.