When it comes to our health, some of us take a proactive approach, while others treat our bodies more like cars, and only go in for a tune-up when a warning light comes on.
The typical reason so many people avoid regular checkups is anxiety, either about the possibilities of bad news, or the testing cost, or just the discomfort that comes from interacting with a healthcare provider.
Sexual health care can be an entirely separate and more extreme problem. Nobody wants to go to their healthcare provider for a battery of STD tests the first time they’re with new sexual partners.
Even if you pride yourself on making sure you get great medical care, it can feel like letting your healthcare provider know that many details of your sex life is just TMI.
This (and many other reasons, for that matter) are why so many people turn to services like urgent care for STD testing.
Urgent care clinics are a great option for a variety of medical care needs, with their extended hours and jack-of-all-trades medical professionals.
But as a sexual health clinic, its value is largely underappreciated. Still, there are limits to what they can test, how, and how quickly.
We’ll break all of that down, but first, let's cover some basics about the STDs and sexual health conditions they can test for, to put your mind at ease.
We probably don’t need to tell you why STD testing is so important — chances are that you had that expressed to you as an adolescent. What we will tell you is how important they are.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, quick and early detection of sexually transmitted diseases increases your chances of limiting the effects of the diseases, which can be serious.
Over time, STDs like gonorrhea, genital herpes, syphilis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and chlamydia can lead to long-term and devastating complications like bone deformities, brain damage, infertility, blindness, mental retardation, birth defects for your offspring, heart disease, cancer and, eventually in some cases, death.
The NIAID explains that diagnosing STDs is done through a variety of methods including blood tests and culture swabs, in addition to physical examination.
Your risk factor for contracting an STD will vary based on factors like your frequency of sexual contact. The problem is that many STDs don’t have physical symptoms immediately, so you could in theory both be carrying an STD and passing it along to your partners, all without the slightest hint that you have it.
Regular testing after sexual contact solves this problem. So, where do you go?
While it will vary considerably from one urgent care center to another, generally, most urgent care centers are equipped to test for some — if not all — viral and bacterial infections and diseases associated with reproductive organs.
Some urgent care services offer medical tests for the likes of chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, Syphilis, trichomoniasis and hepatitis. They do blood, urine and fluid sample based tests.
These are the same types of tests offered by emergency room or primary care doctors. Getting your results can take anywhere from minutes to days, depending on the test type and whether they can be completed onsite.
An urgent care center can do many STD tests, though for results, some of them may have to send test specimens to a third party lab, which could take extra time.
While results from a pelvic exam or physical exam may be made clear instantaneously, results from the likes of a urine sample or blood sample may have to be sent away if your urgent care’s testing services don’t include an onsite lab.
Generally speaking, your insurance should pay for STD tests — even if you are going through an urgent care center for results instead of your primary care physician.
According to Planned Parenthood, STD tests can usually be paid for by insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
The ACA helps insurers offer the tests at free or reduced rates, at a variety of locations including local clinics, hospitals and clinics like Planned Parenthood.
There are several places where you can get tested for STDs aside from your local urgent care facilities.
According to Planned Parenthood (which also does testing for STDs) you can have a test done by your primary care provider’s office, most local community health clinics and certain health department offices.
There are several places where you can search for testing facilities, and we’d suggest starting here with the CDC’s Get Tested database, which offers free, fast and confidential testing facilities near you.
This link to Planned Parenthood's facilities will direct you to the closest of their offices.
Urgent care isn’t necessarily the best option for many medical needs. It’s not the place you go for a heart transplant, and it’s not the place you’ll go to find a general practitioner or primary care provider.
But that may be the advantage in and of itself — that you don’t go there to see a physician you have regular interactions with.
While your primary health care provider is a great place to go for new ailments because they have a relationship with you and previous experience caring for your health, that relationship may make testing for sexual diseases and infections uncomfortable.
Many people avoid healthcare provider office visits until the problem gets too bad, and that is the case regardless of the health condition in question.
But especially when it comes to STD testing, the provider you may have been seeing for decades — that your family members may have seen for decades — might be someone you’d prefer not to talk about health care specifically for your sex life with.
Urgent care offers another option. It’s the same procedures with a degree of anonymity that might make some patients more comfortable being frank or honest about their sexual activities.
All things equal in testing, the question is really where you feel most comfortable, and whether that’s with a stranger you’ll likely never see again or the same person that’s been examining you for years… that’s up to you.