Urgent Care Vs Emergency Room And Primary Care



It can be an added stress when you are unsure about which care facility is the most suitable for your illness or injury.

This article aims to put you at ease by explaining the differences between urgent care, the emergency room, and primary care.

It is important that you take note of the differences in order to save you time and money.

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room

Urgent care centers are dealing with a variety of medical issues that need urgent treatment. Although many may be unaware, same-day urgent care centers function similarly to your family doctor in being able to deal with minor injuries and illnesses.

For example, allergies, sprains, respiratory infections, and cuts can all be dealt with at an urgent care facility. While the ER can also tend to these sorts of ailments, you will more than likely be waiting a considerable amount of time (3-4 hours) before you will be seen by a doctor.

The advantage of an urgent care center is that waiting times are considerably less, with most patients typically seen within one hour.

A National Center for Health Statistics study discovered that of the patients who went to ER but were not admitted to a hospital, 48% said they went to ER because their doctor’s office was not open or there was no available appointment. This means that many patients are unaware that urgent care centers are an alternative to both the doctor and ER when they have an illness that requires urgent attention.

It is important, however, to distinguish between the words “urgency” and “emergency”.

While urgent care centers are more convenient in terms of waiting times and offer same-day treatment options, they are not suitable for emergency situations. If you suspect a potentially life-threatening condition such as a stroke, trauma injury or a heart attack, it would be advisable to skip urgent care and head straight for ER.

In most cases, if you were to mention to your urgent care doctor about feeling chest pain, for example, the doctor will in most likelihood send you to the ER. This may mean that you get billed twice, therefore if you suspect something serious, go straight to ER and hope there are short waiting times.

Urgent Care vs Primary Care

Many will consider going to a primary care center for their yearly health check-up, winter colds and infections, and inoculations.

Primary care facilities are best for these types of instances which even though they are considered genuine illnesses, they do not require urgent medical attention.

The urgent care center should really be considered the bridge between primary care and ER. Therefore, if you have any of the following symptoms, it is best to leap-frog primary care to your nearest urgent care facility:


  • Fever without a rash
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that is persistent
  • Abdominal pain
  • Wheezing
  • Dehydration
  • Moderate flu-like symptoms
  • Sprains and strains
  • Small cuts that may require stitches

In the US, there are currently approximately 20,000 physicians who practice medicine in urgent care facilities. Therefore, when entering an urgent care center, rest-assured that you will be treated by a high-caliber medical professional.

Furthermore, while your primary care doctor may be very familiar to you and your illnesses, the likelihood is that you will have to wait a considerable amount of time to get an appointment. Urgent care facilities can usurp this problem by guaranteeing same-day access to medical care.

While best utilized for urgent medical treatment, urgent care centers can also provide the same testing and examinations that you will be familiar with in your primary care center. Therefore, in cases where you may not currently have a primary care physician, urgent care centers are there to fill the void if you don’t have primary care access.

There are also some emergency facilities and urgent care centers which will typically be much cheaper than using the ER, however as previously discussed, emergencies are best dealt with at the ER.

Final Remarks

With any healthcare system, it is crucial that it does not become abused or misused by the general public.

It is therefore important for citizens to know which care facility is the most suitable for their particular illness. In the case of illness or injury, any medical intervention tends to be better than no medical intervention. So, for the sake of your own health, do not shy away from engaging with healthcare facilities at any level, but it is wise to be aware of the different care facilities on offer to save you money and to save the time of medical professionals.

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