Realizing you need medical treatment can be stressful. In the panic of the moment, it’s not always clear where to go for assistance. Many questions may run through your mind… Should you seek urgent care vs. primary care? Where are the nearest medical facilities? Can you use urgent care as primary care?
Urgent Care vs. Primary Care: What’s the Difference?
Urgent care and primary care facilities both play an essential role in your overall healthcare, but each serves its own unique purpose.
A Primary Care Physician (PCP) is a general practitioner who typically acts as the first point of contact for your healthcare needs. Unless you move out of the area or switch insurance plans, you’ll likely stick with the same PCP for the majority of your adult life. Over time, your primary care physician gets to know you as an individual and will monitor your health, diagnose and treat your illnesses, and coordinate referrals with specialists if you need assistance outside their field of expertise.
Urgent care is a category of walk-in clinic. But is urgent care primary care? No, not exactly. It’s more of an intermediary between emergency room treatment and your regular family doctor. Urgent care clinics treat a wide variety of injuries and illnesses that are more time-sensitive than a visit to your primary care physician, but not pressing enough to warrant a trip to (or a long wait in) an emergency room.
Let’s take a look at some more specific examples of when and why to choose PCP vs. urgent care (and vice versa).
When & Why to Go to Your Primary Care Doctor
You should book regular health checkups with your primary care doctor, even if you don’t feel sick. Routine maintenance of your health is crucial for prevention and the early diagnosis of serious illnesses and chronic conditions which may not present easy-to-spot symptoms from the offset. In other words, your PCP should be your first port of call for routine checkups and examinations.
Outside of this, you can also consult your primary care physician about non-emergency medical issues, including reproductive health, nutrition, sleeping problems, stress management, mental health concerns, and minor illnesses and injuries. Your PCP has in-depth knowledge of your medical history and what medications you take. So they are in the best position to support you with the best solution for your long-term health.
Illnesses and ailments often treated by primary care physicians include:
- Insect bites
- Cuts, scraps, and scratches
- Sprains and strains
- Pulled muscles
- Minor burns
- Sore throat
- Food sensitivity
- Sinus infections
- Ear infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Upper respiratory infections
- Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
Visiting the same doctor for all of your primary healthcare needs helps them establish a better overall picture of your health. This ensures a more consistent and stable level of care than seeing different doctors at urgent care centers whenever a new problem arises.
When & Why to Go to Urgent Care
Primary care and urgent care facilities are both staffed by qualified doctors and provide similar services. However, the treatment you receive at an urgent care center is often provided by a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Whichever medical professionals you see, their goal is to provide convenient and timely treatment of urgent medical issues, rather than provide full preventative or primary care.
Urgent medical issues are those which are not considered a life-threatening emergency, but still require attention within 24 hours. So for those wondering, “can I use urgent care as primary care if my regular physician is on vacation or fully booked with appointments?”, the answer is yes. However, remember that none of the medical personnel you see will have the same knowledge of your medical history as your PCP, so overly frequent use of urgent care in place of your PCP is not advisable. To help your regular physician catch up, patients usually need to fill in a lot of paperwork. Also, bear in mind that urgent care copays are often significantly higher than primary care copays.
So what can urgent care do? Urgent care centers provide diagnostic services like blood tests and x-rays, and treat a wide variety of illnesses, injuries, including:
- Minor fractures from accidents and falls
- Broken bones on the hands and feet
- Small cuts requiring stitches
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration
- Eye infections
- Allergic reactions
- Common vaccinations
- Mild breathing difficulties (like asthma)
- Sprains and strains
- Pulled muscles
- Abdominal pain
- Moderate back problems
The major benefit for most patients is that urgent care centers are often open 24 hours and do not require an appointment. So for a quick diagnosis and speedy pain relief, they offer a convenient alternative to waiting for a primary care appointment or spending hours in line at an emergency room. Can you get a referral from urgent care? Yes, a healthcare professional at an urgent care center can write you a specialist referral if necessary.
However, neither urgent care nor primary care is the right choice if you have a life-threatening emergency. For any of the following conditions, you should call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room immediately:
- Severe fractures with bone protrusion
- Knife or gunshot wounds
- Wounds with uncontrollable bleeding
- Severe chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Convulsions, seizures, or loss of consciousness
- Electricity or lightning injuries
- Severe burns
- Drug overdoses
- Serious head, neck, or back injuries
- Severe abdominal pain
- Heart attack
Emergency conditions endanger lives and can permanently impair the quality of life going forward if they are not treated promptly. So for any of the symptoms above, don’t waste time debating between urgent care vs. primary care. Just seek help as soon as possible.
Robust Coverage with Eden Health
At Eden Health, we pride ourselves on providing the high-quality healthcare you and your teams deserve – for both urgent and primary care needs. We offer access to the best doctors and care anywhere, anytime, via our mobile app. From virtual care to corporate wellness programs, we have the solutions you need to keep your workforce happy and healthy.
Contact us or request a demo today for more information on our healthcare solutions for employers and to discover how our collaborative approach to healthcare can help your organization.
This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your Care Team or other healthcare provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials.