When you fear you’ve been exposed to a sexually transmitted disease (STD), it’s very difficult to concentrate on much else until you find out whether or not you’ve actually been infected. That fear can be a good motivator, though, as the majority of people who do have STDs aren’t aware of it; in fact, according to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, less than 30% of those at elevated risk of exposure to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, had ever been tested in their lives.
There are many options for getting yourself tested if you think you’ve been exposed or you’re among the group federal health officials recommend get tested. (FYI, this group includes most people — the CDC says everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be screened for HIV at least once in their lives.)
One popular option is visiting an urgent care center, such as those operated by many local hospital groups or clinics run by major chains like Walgreens and CVS. Let’s take a look at the advantages and downsides of seeking STD testing at an urgent care center, though it’s important to note that visiting an urgent care center for an STD test won’t necessarily reduce the length of time it takes to get results because of the nature of STD testing.
Doctor’s Office or Urgent Care?
For those who have a primary care physician, they might assume their doctor’s office is the best place to get tested for an STD, and there’s no doubt that for many people, that’s true. But about one-quarter of Americans lack a primary care provider and even those who do might not want to call up their doctor’s office to make an appointment for an STD screening.
Even for those with who have an established relationship with a family doctor, visiting the practice’s office to get an STD screening involves calling and making an appointment and, potentially, feeling embarrassed that this is a service they need. That may be an unreasonable feeling (about half of all sexually active people will get an STD by their 25th birthday), but it’s enough to stop many people from seeing their family doctors for these kinds of sexual health services.
In addition to avoiding the potential awkwardness of seeing your longtime doctor for an STD test, making an appointment at a busy healthcare provider’s office could mean you’ll need to wait days or even weeks for an available slot, and if you have reason to believe you’ve been exposed to an STD, that wait could be unbearable. Most urgent care clinics are designed to allow for walk-in services, so you won’t need to wait for days or take time off work to fit a doctor’s appointment into your calendar.
Additionally, most urgent care facilities have similar practices with regard to insurance, so you likely won’t face higher costs than if you’d gone to your doctor, while others are far cheaper than physician’s offices and for those who are concerned about discretion, many are cheap enough to pay for in cash.
The other big benefit of an urgent care facility for STD testing is that it may provide a one-stop shop, both taking your sample and sending it away for testing as well as administering the treatment you need to clear up the infection, though this will depend on the facility as well as what infections you may have tested positive for.
Urgent Care Options
You’ll be the best judge of what facilities or clinics exist in your local area, but there are a few places that are commonly available across the country that can provide urgent care STD testing.
Hospital-affiliated centers: Many busy hospitals staff separate urgent care centers that are designed to alleviate strain on emergency departments within hospitals. These centers sometimes are quite vast and provide a host of diagnostic and treatment services.
Standalone urgent care centers: There are several national and regional urgent care center chains, such as MedExpress and NextCare, and other independent centers may operate in your area. These generally provide many of the same services as hospital-affiliated centers.
Walk-in clinics: While not technically urgent care centers, there are many healthcare clinic options out there where you can get tested for STDs. Perhaps the most well-known is Planned Parenthood, which provides low-cost testing in many communities, but healthcare clinics also operate in many pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, as well as grocery stores, such as Kroger and Safeway, and these vary across the country. Many of these offer STD testing, but you may need to check their websites to be sure what tests they do.
As mentioned, getting a test at an urgent care center may be advantageous because it allows you more flexibility in how you give your sample. But the actual testing process is usually the same regardless of where you get your test because it takes a certain number of days for labs to examine samples for the markers of STDs. It may be possible at some facilities to get a rapid HIV test that can show results in 20 minutes, but this test isn’t available everywhere.
Getting tested could be just the first step; after all, if you are diagnosed with an STD, you’ll need to get treated to clear up the infection or, for STDs that can’t be cured, begin medication to manage the infection.
Many STDs can be cleared up with brief rounds of pills or even single shots, and urgent care centers often can provide these treatment services as well. Here’s a look at some of the most common STDs and their treatment options:
- Bacterial vaginosis: Cured with antibiotics
- Gonorrhea: Cured with antibiotics
- Syphilis: Cured with antibiotics
- Chlamydia: Cured with antibiotics
- Trichomoniasis: Cured with antibiotics
- HIV: Managed with daily antiviral medication but not technically curable
- Herpes: Managed with antiviral medication to limit scope and frequency of outbreaks but not technically curable
- HPV: Not curable, but warts caused by virus can be treated
- Hepatitis: Some types can be treated with antiviral medications
It’s important to note that for people who do test positive for incurable viruses, such as HIV, herpes and some types of hepatitis, the need for lifelong treatment means that at some point, you will need to inform your primary care provider (if you have one) about your status so that they can help you manage your disease.
Urgent care centers fill an important gap in the healthcare system by offering an alternative to the traditional doctor’s office setting, and this service can come in handy when you’re looking to get yourself tested for STDs. While urgent care is certainly a good option for STD screenings, keep in mind that every disease has a unique incubation period and window in which even if you get tested, you might show up as not having the STD even though you do. Before you search for an urgent care facility where you can get tested, make sure you understand that the services you get are urgent, but your results might not be.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Urgent Care STD Testing. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2019/NHTD-2019-press-release.html