ER, Urgent or Primary Care

ER, Urgent or Primary Care

By: Deepa Ravi, MD, FAAP


You are with your daughter at a soccer game on a Sunday morning and she becomes short of breath with chest pain and nausea. Should you go to an urgent care or call 9-1-1?


It’s 7 PM on a Tuesday when your son is skateboarding and jumps a curb and rolls his ankle. Do you ice it and hope for the best or head to a nearby urgent care clinic?


It’s Wednesday at 10 AM, and your toddler has been suffering with fever and vomiting for several days now. Can this be ignored or should you call your doctor?


Sometimes when medical situations arise, it’s hard to know whether to call your primary care physician, visit the nearest urgent care center, or head straight to the emergency room. But there are some basic guidelines that can help you discern when and where to go the next time you or someone in your care is dealing with a medical issue.


Emergency Care


Emergency rooms (ER’s) are set up to provide 24/7 treatment of the most serious and/or severe symptoms. They have advanced imaging and lab resources onsite and quick access to providers in specialty areas. Some examples of conditions that warrant an immediate trip to the ER include:

  • Head injuries with loss of consciousness, drowsiness, vomiting, and/or confusion
  • Severe burns
  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive or uncontrollable bleeding
  • Choking
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Seizures
  • Open fractures
  • Sudden or severe headaches, paralysis, or weakness
  • Sudden changes in vision
  • Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
  • Electric shock
  • Possible ingestion of chemicals or overdose of medications
  • Dehydration
  • Severe lacerations
  • Fever in a newborn less than 28 days old
  • Fever over 101 for more than 5 days
  • Testicular injuries
  • Severe eye injuries
  • Signs or symptoms of appendicitis

Emergency Room visits are expensive and often time-consuming, but the ER is always the best option for life or limb-threatening conditions. If you or someone in your care is experiencing difficulty breathing, signs of a stroke or heart attack, or a life-threatening injury, call 9-1-1 rather than driving to the nearest Emergency Room.


Urgent Care


Urgent care centers have set hours which include evenings, weekends, and holidays, and most centers don’t require an appointment. They may offer X-ray and basic lab services. The purpose of urgent care is to treat urgent but non-life-threatening medical conditions that arise during hours when your primary care provider is unavailable.


Examples of conditions that are often treated in urgent care include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Minor fractures
  • Rashes and skin irritations or infections
  • Minor cuts and abrasions
  • Mild to moderate asthma
  • Moderate back pain
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Throat infections
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Fever or suspected flu or COVID
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Minor eye injuries
  • Foreign bodies in the nose, ear, eyes or skin
  • STI testing
  • Fainting spells or syncope
  • Allergic reactions

Urgent care centers are typically less expensive and quicker than visiting an Emergency Room. They may be staffed by physicians, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants. They provide a convenient and efficient option for after-hours illnesses and injuries or same-day appointments when your regular physician is unavailable. However, it’s important to remember that urgent care is designed to supplement rather than to replace your primary care provider.


Primary Care


Primary care providers (PCP’s) are set up to function as the hub of your healthcare. They are typically open regular business hours and provide preventive as well as routine healthcare for you and your family. Their goal is to help patients by providing comprehensive care, disease prevention, and diagnosis of acute and chronic illnesses, medication management, and patient education. Your PCP partners with you on an ongoing basis as you navigate the healthcare system. If you can schedule an appointment and be seen by your PCP, they are the best choice of care for non-life-threatening conditions since they know you and your medical history.


Examples of primary care offerings:

  • Physicals and annual exams
  • Preventative care
  • Prescription management and refills
  • Vaccinations
  • Disease management (diabetes, asthma, heart disease, etc.)
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Referrals to specialists
  • Treatment of minor illnesses and injuries during open hours

Primary care, urgent care, and emergency care are designed to work in tandem with each other to ensure that you have access to appropriate, quality healthcare wherever and whenever you need it.


Find our urgent care locations and hours here.