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Urgent Care, Primary Care, or ER: Know Where To Go

You tripped and fell as you rushed out the door for work this morning, and now your thumb is throbbing and swelling. Do you chalk up your whole day as a loss and visit the emergency room? Do you call your primary care doctor and see if they can fit you in to take a look? Or do you try visiting one of the urgent care clinics you pass every day?

A possible broken thumb is a good example of when an urgent care clinic can be a safe, convenient option for care. You will be able to avoid the lines and stress of the emergency room, while being evaluated and receiving care more quickly than a typical primary care office can provide.

But, when it comes to other health issues, how do you know when to visit urgent care vs. primary care? Or when to visit urgent care vs. the ER? We’ve provided some examples below to help make the decision more clear.

Reasons to Visit an Emergency Room

In general, dial 911 – or head to a hospital – immediately for any medical problem that appears life-threatening. Examples of conditions that need emergency medical care include:

  • Compound fracture, which involves a bone protruding through the skin
  • Convulsions, seizures, or loss of consciousness
  • Deep knife wounds or gunshot wounds
  • Fever in a newborn fewer than three months old
  • Heavy, uncontrollable bleeding
  • Moderate to severe burns
  • Poisoning
  • Pregnancy-related problems
  • Serious head, neck, or back injury
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack symptoms
  • Stroke symptoms, such as vision loss, sudden numbness, weakness, slurred speech, or confusion
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

Reasons to Visit an Urgent Care Clinic

Urgent care clinics are a good option for situations that are not considered emergencies but still require care within 24 hours , such as:

  • Accidents and falls
  • Cuts that might need stitches
  • Minor broken bones and fractures in fingers or toes
  • Sprains and strains
  • Breathing difficulties, such as mild to moderate asthma
  • Diagnostic services, including X-rays and laboratory tests
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever or flu
  • Severe sore throat or cough
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration

Reasons to Visit Your Primary Care Physician

In contrast to urgent care or the emergency room, think of your primary care provider as the center of your healthcare world. They know the most about you, including your health history, chronic conditions, and current medications. With an appointment, you avoid long waits and can expect to pay a lower co-pay than an ER or urgent care visit (if you have insurance).

Examples of primary care visits include:

  • Diagnosis and ongoing management of chronic conditions
  • Any illness that can wait 24hrs for an appointment (and if your doctor can see you the same day, all the better!)
  • Management of prescription medications
  • Well child visits and immunizations

Still not sure where you should go? Many insurance companies and primary care practices provide 24 hour nurse hotlines , which can be a great resource if you are trying to decide between urgent care or your own doctor.

If you do end up visiting an urgent care clinic, bring along a prescription discount card from FamilyWize. Many clinics are located within retail pharmacies and the card can provide significant savings if you have to purchase medications during your visit. And if the ER doctor or your primary care doctor write you a prescription, use the Drug Price Look-up Tool from FamilyWize to find the pharmacy with the lowest price possible for your prescription , and then use your FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card to save when you pick it up.


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