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Injuries and illnesses occur when you least expect them. Local urgent care centers can give a person the medical care they need, usually at a fraction of the cost or time of an emergency room (ER). They provide care for a wide variety of sicknesses, diseases and other conditions.

However, there is another type of walk-in care center that treats musculoskeletal (bone, joint, muscle, tendons, ligaments) injuries such as fractures, sprains and strains from falls and impact accidents – orthopedic urgent care clinics.

Tim Fitch is a certified physician’s assistant with advanced training when it comes to caring for patients who have orthopedic injuries and pain and who need urgent care. To better understand when an injury requires an ER visit, physician appointment, urgent care or urgent ortho clinic visit, I did a Q&A with Tim:

Q: What are the benefits of going to an orthopedic urgent care clinic versus an urgent care center or emergency room?

A: Orthopedic urgent care clinics cut out the middleman and offer seamless specialized care. At orthopedic urgent care clinics, patients can receive same-day treatment, on-site X-ray, prescriptions and, if necessary, follow-up visits and care with an ortho specialist. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers are staffed by care providers who are skilled at identifying and offering immediate treatment for a wide variety of conditions, but they refer patients to specialists for ongoing and follow-up treatment. In the event of an orthopedic (bone, muscle and joint) injury, patients are referred to an orthopedic specialist anyway. And since most urgent ortho clinics are an extension of an orthopedic practice, the cost is the same as a regular office visit rather than the high cost of ER visits.

Q: What kind of injuries can be treated at an orthopedic urgent care clinic?

A: Ninety-nine percent of new (less than a month old) musculoskeletal injuries are appropriate for a visit to one of these centers, including:

· Ankle, wrist and hand sprains/fractures

· Foot, ankle and leg injuries

· Shoulder injuries (fractures and rotator cuff)

· Knee injuries (sprains/ACL tears/meniscus tears)

· Back, neck and spine injuries less than one-month-old

· Back, neck and spine flare-ups from a previous condition

· Worksite or industrial accidents

· Majority of sports injuries

Q: When is going to the ER or my primary care provider the better choice?

A: It is best to go to the ER if:

· There is chronic, disabling and long-term back, hip or leg pain

· You have a fracture with the bone visible or with an open wound over the fracture. Most often, these are considered trauma injuries and require surgical intervention

· Fainting spells, seizures, neurologic-related signs or symptoms

· Deep lacerations (cuts) and bleeding

· Hip or shoulder dislocations

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It is best to go to a primary care or another provider, urgent care center or a non-orthopedic specialist for:

· Injuries to the eye

· Cold, flu, respiratory and stomach issues

· Medical conditions not related to bones, joints, muscles and their supporting structure.

Q: Do patients see a surgeon during orthopedic urgent care clinics visits?

A: No. Most of the walk-in orthopedic urgent care clinics are staffed by medical providers such as certified physician assistants, or PAs, who have completed special training in orthopedics. There is always an orthopedic surgeon on call for more serious injuries.

Q: What exactly is a PA?

A: Certified physician assistants are not “assistants” the way most think of the word. PAs have the extensive training needed to function with physician oversight but do not require direct supervision. They have significant years of experience and specialized training in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. They must pass a national exam, be state-licensed, recertify every 10 years and complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years.

Q: What can orthopedic PAs do?

A: Physician assistants who specialize in orthopedics are trained to examine patients to determine what injuries require further diagnostic care and treatment, such as imaging services (MRI, X-Ray, CT, ultrasound), splinting, crutches, compression, immobilization, pain medications and those injuries which require immediate care, such as surgery. They prescribe medications, develop treatment plans, assist surgeons in surgery and are trusted members of a patient’s care team. Most of all, they ensure patients receive seamless, comprehensive care, often much sooner than if the patient was to schedule a visit with a surgeon.

Is there a health topic you would like to know more about? Contact Starla S. Collins, health writer and public relations guru, at Tim Fitch can be reached at the Urgent Ortho clinic at Northern Arizona Orthopaedics in Flagstaff.


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