Urgent Care vs. Primary Care — When to Go to Urgent Care vs. the Doctor

When you or a loved one experience an unexpected illness or injury, it is important that you seek medical attention. Fortunately, you have many options for receiving prompt, comprehensive medical treatment, including your primary care clinic, the local urgent care clinic and the nearest hospital’s emergency room (ER).

Generally, your primary care physician (PCP) will tend to your non-urgent health conditions, questions and concerns. Your local urgent care clinic can also handle non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries that require prompt medical attention if your PCP is unavailable. However, if you or your loved one is experiencing a true medical emergency, skip urgent care and call 911 or head straight to the local emergency department.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between primary, urgent and emergency care and when you should go to urgent care.


What Is Primary Care?

Primary care is a specific branch of medicine that acts as a patient’s primary entry point into the health care system. A primary care doctor specializes in preventive care and ongoing health management, providing the information, education, counseling and resources you need to remain healthy in the long term. In other words, your PCP is your first point of contact for any medical concerns you might have.

Whether you choose an internist, family practitioner or another type of doctor, your PCP will get to know you, your medical history and your current health status. This in-depth knowledge helps them effectively prevent, diagnose, manage and treat various acute and chronic health conditions.

For your PCP to develop a complete picture of your health, it’s best to schedule a routine health checkup at least once every couple of years.


When to Seek Primary Care

Your PCP is prepared to treat a variety of acute and chronic health conditions and specializes in the following types of care:

  • Routine check-ups, physicals, immunizations and other preventive care
  • Management of acute and chronic health conditions and ongoing treatments
  • Medication refills and prescription management
  • Non-urgent health concerns and general medical advice

In addition to addressing your general health questions and caring for minor injuries or illnesses, your PCP can refer you to other health care professionals for treatments outside their expertise. For example, your PCP can refer you to a dermatologist for a skin biopsy or a radiologist for an ultrasound scan.


What Is Urgent Care?

Like a primary care clinic, an urgent care clinic offers prompt, convenient treatment for non-emergent illnesses and injuries requiring immediate care, including broken bones, rashes, allergic reactions, fevers and insect bites.

However, rather than visiting a physician who knows your complete medical history and any medications you might be taking, you will likely receive treatment from a qualified physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Because urgent care providers don’t have a complete picture of your current health status, you will likely need to complete a fair amount of paperwork. Urgent care co-pays also tend to be higher than primary care co-pays.

If possible, it’s best to schedule an appointment with your PCP unless:

  • You are out of town.
  • Your primary care physician is unavailable or fully booked.
  • Your primary care clinic is closed.
  • You require immediate pain relief.


When to Seek Urgent Care

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the following health conditions and your PCP is unavailable, it is best to visit your local urgent care clinic:

  • Acute injuries, including sprains, strains and minor fractures, or broken bones
  • Common illnesses, including the flu, colds and respiratory infections
  • Mild to moderate allergic reactions
  • Minor fevers, cuts, burns, rashes and infections
  • Other time-sensitive but non-life-threatening conditions that require prompt attention, including asthma flare-ups


Urgent Care vs. Emergency Care — When to Go to the ER 

While urgent care facilities are convenient because they are often open 24 hours and don’t require an appointment, life-threatening medical emergencies always warrant a trip to the emergency room. Open around the clock, emergency rooms have the staffing and resources to treat emergency medical conditions and trauma.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the following medical conditions or emergencies, call 911 or head to your local emergency room immediately:

  • High fever for infants, young children and older adults
  • Gunshot or knife wound
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Severe chest pain
  • Stroke or stroke symptoms
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe burns
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Electricity or lightning injuries
  • Choking and difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack
  • Medication or drug overdose
  • Poisoning
  • Critical head, neck or spinal injuries


Choose First Docs for Primary Care You Can Depend On

At First Docs, our caring family of board-certified physicians offers comprehensive, personalized primary health care services for all populations and stages of life. Our patient-focused, holistic approach to health care equips us to meet your or your loved one’s physical, mental and emotional care needs.

With physicians available on-site upward of five to seven days per week, we are prepared to prevent, manage, diagnose and treat most acute and chronic health conditions. Our dedication to providing prompt, patient-centric care reduces the likelihood of preventable medical complications and costly hospitalizations or ER visits.

As your health care provider, your First Docs physician will develop a complete picture of your health and partner with you to preserve your well-being and quality of life. If you seek world-class, individualized primary care services in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, request an appointment with us online today.

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