Primary Care Provider, Urgent Care Center or ER?

July 17th, 2016

Recently, urgent care centers have been opening up in many cities across the US.  These are conveniently located health centers meant to address minor health issues, usually of an acute nature.  They are usually staff by trained emergency medicine physicians and staff and provide an excellent alternative to the often-packed and chaotic emergency rooms.  An urgent care center can do things like minor stitching of wounds, X-rays to check for fractures, treating sprains, and rapid flu/strep tests.  They should not be used to address issues such as heart attacks, strokes, appendicitis, or severe infections; these may possibly require invasive testing or hospitalization.  In general, if you have multiple medical issues such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, or cancer, an ER may be a better option as these issues may worsen with any acute medical issue.

If you can see your primary care provider during his/her office hours that would be the most ideal and most cost effective.  It is often helpful to let the front desk staff at your primary care office know the reason why you need an urgent appointment.  Most offices will set aside a few appointments each day for these issues.  Urgent care centers are great for after hour medical issues, but they often charge more than a primary care visit.  Do not use the urgent care center as your primary care center.  Many urgent care centers have different providers on shifts and you may see someone different each time.  True primary care providers are ones you see consistently and know your history.

If you do visit an urgent care, make sure you obtain a visit summary for what was done.  This way, when you see your primary care provider at a later day, you can give them this summary so they know what the diagnosis and treatment given.  You always want your healthcare team to be fully updated.