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Ask an Expert: What Medications Can an Urgent Care Clinician Prescribe?

We have written in the past about when you should visit an emergency room versus an Urgent Care Clinic . It is important for patients to understand that there are also differences in how Urgent Care Clinics work when it comes to prescribing medications. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we hear about Urgent Care facilities and prescription drugs:

What Types of Medications May an Urgent Care Clinician Prescribe?

Because Urgent Care clinics are designed to address urgent, but not life-threatening or chronic, health issues, it makes sense that their providers may only prescribe medications to address short-term conditions.

Urgent Care providers most often prescribe:

  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Antiviral medications, such as for flu treatment
  • Asthma and allergy medications
  • Short-term pain medications for some injuries (this varies by location and some facilities are not allowed to prescribe pain medications at all)
  • Creams, lotions, or ointments for rashes, first-degree burns, or skin irritation
  • Short-term stomach medications, such as antacids and H2 receptor blockers (e.g., cimetidine, ranitidine, or omeprazole) to help patients until they can see their own gastroenterologist or primary care doctor
  • One dose of a maintenance medication, such as cholesterol medications, blood pressure medications, or medicine designed to treat diabetes until the patient has access to their normal supply or their primary care physician can authorize a refill prescription

In many cases, Urgent Care clinicians are unable to prescribe:

Because Urgent Care doctors typically only see a patient one time, they cannot prescribe anything that requires monitoring, like a long-term treatment or a mental health treatment. They are also extremely careful with substances that may be abused, like narcotics and pain medications.

Can Urgent Care Facilities Fill or Refill Prescriptions Onsite?

In some cases, yes, Urgent Care facilities may have onsite pharmacies to fill basic prescriptions. Typically, onsite pharmacies may only fill prescriptions written by the clinic’s healthcare providers – patients may not bring in a prescription from an outside doctor – and therefore their stock is limited. Refill requests are usually directed to a local retail pharmacy.

Regardless of whether or not the location you visit has an onsite pharmacy, clinicians may be able to give out Rx drug samples to help you get through until you fill a prescription written by your primary care doctor, or as an option for trying the latest treatment. As a patient, you should be aware that prescription drug samples are almost always the latest brand name drug available, which also means they are the most expensive option.

If you need to take the medication for an extended period of time, or if you know your insurance typically covers generics at a much lower rate (as most do), then it may be best to ask about other lower cost options .

Can You Use a Prescription Discount Card at an Urgent Care Facility?

Sometimes you can use an Rx card like FamilyWize to receive discount prescriptions at Urgent Care clinics; it never hurts to ask. Anytime you purchase a prescription medication, it pays to show a drug discount card before you checkout. If the clinic’s pharmacy can bill your insurance directly, they can also direct bill a prescription savings card.

This post is part of our “Ask an Expert” blog series by Ken Majkowski, Pharm.D, the Chief Pharmacy Officer at FamilyWize. Ken brings more than 40 years of healthcare experience to the FamilyWize team, including 14 years of clinical pharmacy experience in retail, hospital, and home care. Read his full bio here.

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