You consider yourself to be a fairly health-conscious person.
You eat right, work out, have medication reminders set on your phone, and you can usually tell when something is just a bit “off” with your health.
However, lots of people struggle to figure out the right kind of treatment options for their current medical issues — and where they should go to get them.
Is the emergency room right for you? What about that urgent care facility a few minutes away from your house? Or, can you just wait until your doctor has an appointment available?
In this post, we’ll help you to understand the main differences between your primary care physician, an urgent care facility, and the emergency room.
By the end of it, you’ll be able to decide if you should go to an urgent care vs emergency room for treatment — as well as why sometimes, it’s best to play things on the safe side and head straight to the ER.
What Is a Primary Care Physician?
Need to get your annual checkup? Do you have ongoing health issues, long-term treatment plans, or diagnoses that you know how to manage already?
Are you interested in making an appointment to get a medical opinion on something minor, like an irritating backache or digestive issues?
If so, then you’ll likely go to your primary care physician (PCP) to have all these needs met.
Lots of people have a primary doctor because they like working with a medical professional that is already familiar with their health history, medications, allergies, and other conditions.
And while your primary care provider can help you to manage your medication, run basic medical tests, and provide annual checkups and other preventative care, they can’t “do it all.”
If you have a more specific health question or concern that’s a bit out of their wheelhouse, they’ll refer you to a specialist like a, or a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, or a rheumatologist among others.
You should see your PCP if you need:
- A routine checkup
- To refill or change a medication
- Treatment for a common/non-life-threatening medical issue
- To develop a long-term preventative health plan
- To manage a chronic condition
- To coordinate other care (see specialists, etc.)
Still, your PCP is not equipped to treat you for emergency issues or symptoms that are more extreme. Not only do they lack much of the required specialized medical training, but the average wait time to get an appointment with a PCP is roughly 24 days.
The immediacy of care, as well as access to a team of medical professionals that can treat countless types of health complications in one place, are perhaps the biggest differences between your doctor’s office vs ER treatment.
When you’re concerned you have a major health issue on your hands, you simply can’t afford to wait that long.
Understanding Urgent Care
So, what exactly is an urgent care center, and when is the right time to visit one?
You might go to an urgent care clinic because you need same-day service, but know that your medical issues aren’t really life-threatening.
For example, if you suspect you have a bacterial infection, you can go to your local urgent care center to pick up a prescription for the medications you need.
You can also get minor testing done, such as screening for STDs, lipid panels, and tests for Lyme disease and strep throat. If you need relief from the common cold, need to figure out if you have the flu, or even if you need basic shots, an urgent care center can often provide that.
They accept most insurance policies, are often somewhat less crowded than the emergency room, and you’ll still get quality care.
So, why choose the ER vs urgent care?
While an urgent care center can provide some kinds of diagnostic testing, they simply don’t have all the resources and equipment that an emergency room does.
There’s no point in delaying your treatment even further because you have to find a medical facility in your area that has the radiology and imaging equipment that an ER has onsite already.
Especially if you need more specialized treatment, an urgent care center likely isn’t going to be able to give it to you.
Urgent Care vs Emergency Room: What to Know
We know that spending your afternoon at the hospital isn’t exactly your idea of a good time.
Lots of people assume that they can get pretty much the same treatment that a hospital offers at an urgent care center.
However, urgent care vs emergency room experiences is quite different from one another.
Yes, you can walk into your urgent care clinic and get a same-day appointment, making them much more convenient than waiting for weeks for an opening with your primary care physician.
However, urgent care clinics often have a longer wait time than emergency rooms do — and that wait time can vary drastically depending on the day.
Emergency room professionals are used to seeing lots of different patients every day, so they’re ready to handle a sudden influx in patients.
Urgent care centers, on the other hand, do not staff board-certified physicians but rather have one Nurse Practitioner or Physician assistants on shift.
So, if things get backed up, you could be waiting for quite a while at urgent care. This isn’t just annoying. It also means that, if you do need fast care, you’re putting your safety and health at risk by waiting for that one clinician to become available.
Another thing to consider if you’re choosing between an urgent care clinic vs emergency room?
Urgent care clinics offer limited hours, especially if you’re in a smaller town. If you go to the ER, you can be certain that you’ll get the best care right when you need it. After all, sometimes it just can’t wait until the morning.
Why an Emergency Room Is Often the Right Answer
Most people are well aware of the fact that a simple bruise or minor burn while cooking dinner aren’t exactly compelling reasons to rush to the emergency room.
As of this writing, nearly 12 million Americans are incorrectly diagnosed every year. While numbers like this shouldn’t cause you to panic, we do hope they help you to understand that your PCP or even the team at your local urgent care aren’t always right.
Especially if your symptoms seem to be getting drastically and rapidly worse, if you can no longer function the way you used to, or if you’ve started to experience new and frightening symptoms, the emergency room is the place for you.
Remember, you don’t always have to be in an extreme health crisis to choose to go to the ER vs urgent care. Sometimes, the emergency room allows you to avoid those potentially serious health crises.
So, what are some of the most common reasons, aside from the obvious like a head wound or broken arm, to go to the ER?
- Sudden tightness or pressure in the chest
- Flu-like symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Slurred speech, confusion, or word salad
- The presence of an existing condition that makes a minor issue more serious
- Pain after a car accident
- Abdominal pain
- Rashes and other skin infections
- Acute trauma/injury
- Contact with poison or a diseased animal
Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list. But always play it safe if you experience any of these symptoms, and head to your local ER.
Where can you go to get emergency medical treatment in Texas? We’re so glad you asked.
Do You Need to Make an ER Visit in Texas?
We know that it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to understand when you should opt for urgent care vs emergency room, book an appointment with your primary care physician, or even wait to see if your symptoms improve on their own.
If you aren’t sure whether to use an ER or Urgent Care, go to an ER.
Questioning or prolonging a symptom could lead to an adverse event placing you in a life threatening or life altering situation.
If you feel it’s emergent, your insurance company by law has to process your visit as in-network based upon the symptoms and not the discharge diagnosis.
However, if you feel like your symptoms are especially severe, or if you’ve recently experienced any kind of acute trauma, the best thing for you to do is to go to the emergency room.
If you need immediate medical attention, at CH1ER we’re here to help give you compassionate, expert, and fast care.
Our team is ready to provide you with lots of different options for emergency care, whether you have a broken bone, are concerned about your infant, or if you need medical testing ASAP.
Feel like you need to come see us now? If so, click here to check-in online and reduce your wait time.
Primary Care Physician vs Urgent Care vs Emergency Room | Community Health 1st ER – Deer Park, TX