Primary Care, Urgent Care Clinic, and Emergency Department: What is the Difference?

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves in this spot: your child wakes up with a fever, your spouse slips walking down the stairs, or that cough just keeps coming back. You or someone you care for needs medical attention, but you are not sure of the best place to go. Is it an emergency, or is it late at night or on weekends?

As we have learned during the pandemic, sometimes we need both traditional and non-traditional ways to access care. In some situations, the clearest path is calling 911 or going to the emergency room, but what about options that are quicker and more tailored to a specific need or injury? Primary care providers, urgent care, and hospital emergency departments are all part of those solutions.

Let’s examine the details available for each choice:

Primary Care Provider

The best place to receive care and to establish a regular relationship for you and your family is with a primary care provider. Appointments are usually open during normal business hours, and some providers have extended hours and weekend appointments.

See your primary care provider for the following conditions:

  • Common colds, flu, fever, rash, earaches, infections, sore throats and migraines
  • Sprains, minor broken bones, back strains or pain, minor cuts, burns or eye injuries
  • Health screenings and vaccinations or when you need to talk to someone about a medical concern
  • Management of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, asthma, and COPD (just to list a few)

Urgent Care Clinic

For a medical issue that is non-life threatening at a time when your primary care provider is unavailable, for patients one year and older, your next best option is your nearest urgent care. McLeod Urgent Care Centers are open seven days a week and most holidays with extended hours. McLeod Urgent Care Centers are there for you when you or a family member has a condition that you feel needs to be addressed before you can get in to see your doctor or primary care provider.

Emergency Department

Serious and life-threatening situations warrant a visit to the emergency department. If you feel you are in an emergency situation, call 911 or go to the nearest ED. If you or a family member experiences any of the following symptoms, seek emergency care:

  • Chest pain or pressure, numbness in face, arm or leg, severe pain anywhere on the body, coughing or vomiting blood, any severe allergic reaction, severe abdominal pain, or head injury.
  • Heavy bleeding or deep cut, any broken bones breaking through the skin
  • High fever with stiff neck, severe burns and any other condition you believe is life-threatening

Action You Can Take

Knowing the options and scope of health care services available can help you make the right choice for your needs, but above all, seek care when you need it. For more information about services available in your region, visit the “Locations” section at McLeodHealth.org.

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