Where to go for Care

Deciding Between Primary Care Physician, Urgent Care, or Emergency Department

en Espanol

Your Primary Care Physician should generally be your first choice when you’re feeling ill, but not experiencing a serious or potentially life-threatening condition. If your primary care physician's office feels that your condition is serious, they may refer you to an urgent care clinic or emergency department, depending on your condition. You should discuss with physician’s office what to do If you need assistance when your phsyician's office is not open; they may want you to call them first or they want you to consider going to an urgent care clinic or local emergency department for evaluation.  It is best to have this conversation ahead of time.

An urgent care clinic is generally a good option for non-life-threatening injuries and/or illnesses. Urgent care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician, but they are a great resource when you need non-emergency care and can’t get in to see your primary care physician. Most urgent care clinics are staffed by a physician, physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner, and are equipped to treat a variety of non-emergency health conditions. They typically offer a wider range of hours than a primary care physician, have convenient locations, and offer both cost savings and shorter wait times compared to an emergency department visit. You should consider an urgent care clinic if you are experiencing any of the following: 

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

Emergency departments are equipped to treat even the most serious life-threatening conditions. They provide service around the clock and are always staffed by a physician, nurses, and other health professionals who specialize in emergency care. Emergency departments should generally be reserved for true emergencies, including the following conditions that may not be able to be treated by your primary care physician or an urgent care clinic:

  • Chest pain 
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sudden onset of weakness/numbness on one side, or slurred speech
  • Fainting, or other sudden change in mental state
  • Serious burns
  • Head or eye injury
  • Obvious broken/displaced bones or dislocated joints
  • Fever with a rash
  • Seizures
  • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

If your condition warrants treatment at an emergency department, it is generally best to call 911.