Given the delicate nature of some conditions seen in urgent care, the question may come up: Can you treat a patient anonymously at your center?

Many patients choose urgent care when they suspect a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or other “embarrassing” condition. They may prefer urgent care to avoid the more personal visit to their primary care provider, or they might not have a primary doctor. Urgent care is a healthcare alternative that doesn’t have the stigma of travelling to the health department or Planned Parenthood.

To further shield the patient, can an urgent care center treat a patient anonymously? The short answer: No.

The encounter between a physician and a patient is an event with very significant legal implications. The patient must be clearly identified in order to give a signed legal release for medical treatment. In the event of an allegation of malpractice, there must be no question as to the legal identity of the treating provider OR the identity of the specific patient receiving treatment.

Legally it would be just as inappropriate to get an anonymous driver’s license as it would be to receive anonymous medical treatment.

K Royal, an Arizona-based attorney and compliance professional with 25 years of experience in legal and health-related fields, points out that there are instances in which doctors treat patients anonymously – in emergency situations such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or other natural disasters. This can also happen in the case of a vehicle accident if a doctor witnesses the crash and stops to help. Also, homeless outreach efforts may result in anonymous patient treatment.

Additionally, an urgent care center patient could choose to pay in cash so the visit documentation is not sent to the insurance company (thus protecting some amount of that information). But by-and-large patients cannot be treated anonymously in non-emergent circumstances and especially in a medical office or urgent care setting where a medical record must be created.

Most STDs/STIs have mandatory reporting requirements to local and federal health agencies. There are a variety of state statutes for reporting certain conditions, so urgent care providers should know the laws. The Centers for Disease Control offers this list of state reporting laws. There may be other state laws that address the requirements for documenting patient identity.

Finally, a provider cannot give a prescription anonymously, which would significantly limit treatment options for a patient.