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Urgent care centers present malpractice issues

As many Houston residents may have experienced firsthand, one common trend in the world of modern medicine is the urgent care or walk-in medical clinic. These centers are attractive to patients since someone can go to them for medical care on weekends or after their doctor's office has closed.

At the same time, they rarely cost the hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars that a trip to a nearby hospital's emergency room can cost, meaning they are an affordable option for Texans, particularly those who either have no health insurance or inadequate health insurance. However, as recent news stories have shown, there is a potential for problems at these clinics.

For one, these clinics are not subject to the same regulations as traditional emergency departments, and, thus, may be subject to less scrutiny and oversight. Perhaps most importantly, an urgent care center has no obligation to offer treatment without regard to a person's ability to pay for it.

Likewise, they are often staffed not by emergency personnel, but by family doctors and other primary care providers. In many cases, they do not have the same medical equipment and resources as would be available to a traditional emergency room.

Nevertheless, urgent care centers do have medical standards that they are expected to follow. Although these standards are often related to the urgent care center's ability to get credentialed, they are, in fact, also there to ensure that patients who visit an after-hours clinic will get adequate medical care.

Those who visit urgent care clinics have every right to expect that their conditions will be diagnosed promptly and treated effectively. If the clinic cannot handle a specific issue, then it must give an appropriate referral. If an urgent care clinic's failure to follow acceptable standards causes an injury to a patient, then compensation may be available.

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