Get the care you need at the right place.
With so many care options these days, how can you navigate where to go and when? Let's break down the difference between urgent care, primary care and emergency care.
When to go to urgent care
Urgent or walk-in care clinics are the right place to go to resolve minor issues in a single visit. These special clinics can treat a wide variety of ailments, such as:
- Cuts that need stitches
- Insect bites or tick removal
- Ear, urinary and other infections
- Skin rashes
- Sprains and strains
Some clinics allow you to check-in online to save time, but you can walk in, too. Urgent or walk-in care clinics often have more convenient hours than primary care doctors’ offices.
“Our ConvenientCare clinics allow emergency rooms to focus on true emergencies,” says Ronald Strony Jr., MD, emergency medicine physician at Geisinger. “They’re helping patients save time and money, and everyone gets the care they need when they need it.”
Urgent care vs. primary care
So, why not only go to urgent care?
The main difference between urgent care and primary care is all about continuity.
Your primary care provider helps you manage your health throughout your life. Building a relationship with a primary care provider allows you to track your health over years. They can personalize your care, coach you on how to maintain your health and help you manage chronic conditions.
You’ll likely see a different provider each time you visit urgent care, and they’re just treating the acute issue at the time. Primary care doctors want to take time to understand your whole health picture and educate you about health management. A primary care provider can also refer you to specialists for more complex conditions.
Your primary care doctor can also help you with the conditions urgent care covers, but it will likely take longer to get an appointment. But using urgent care for primary care isn’t the best idea, in the long run.
“The difference between primary care and urgent care is the relationship between the provider and patient,” says Christian Shuman, MD, family medicine physician at Geisinger Community Medicine in Pottsville. “I have known many of my patients for years, and I want to keep them healthy for many more.”
When to go to the emergency room
Save a trip here for emergencies.
- Chest pain
- Sudden shortness of breath
- High fever
- Severe weakness or pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden worsening of a chronic condition
- Significant or uncontrolled bleeding
- An accident affecting the use of body parts
Wait times in the hospital ER can be lengthy, as patients with more serious issues are seen first, or “triaged.” This means if anyone comes in with heart attack symptoms, your sinus infection is going to wait (which would probably be best cared for at an urgent care anyway).
Treatment in the ER can also cost substantially more than at an urgent care center. So, before you head to the emergency room, make sure it’s where you need to be.
No matter where you receive care, always bring your insurance cards, personal identification, copay and a list of your medications.
In case of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.