Do you not know which type of medical facility to visit depending on the situation? Click here to learn the differences between urgent care vs. primary care.
Did you know that in the U.S., one person sustains an accidental injury every second? That translates to about 86,400 people injured every single day!
With that many injuries, it’s no wonder U.S. emergency departments see to 42.2 million injured every year.
The thing is, studies show that as many as 3 in 10 ED visits aren’t actual emergencies. Meaning, they aren’t fatal, but they still need prompt treatment. For instance, cuts and lacerations can lead to serious infections if left untreated.
In such situations, you need to choose between urgent care vs. primary care.
The question is, what exactly makes urgent care vs. a doctor different in the first place? When is a health concern considered “urgent” and when is it not?
We’ll cover all these and more in this post, so keep reading so you know who to turn to in case of health problems!
Urgent Care vs. Primary Care: Definition and Distinction
First, let’s go over the definition of urgent care and primary care. This way, you’ll get a better idea on when to go to urgent care and when it’s better to see a doctor.
What Urgent Care Is
Urgent care is a form of a walk-in clinic that provides ambulatory care. These are medical facilities that treat injuries and illnesses that need immediate care.
Take note that immediate is different from emergency care. Life-threatening injuries or illnesses warrant emergency care whereas urgent care is for conditions that are more minor in nature but still need care within 24 hours.
Remember: emergency care is for severe or lethal conditions. These include strokes, heart attacks, broken bones, poisoning, and anaphylaxis. Deep wounds with severe bleeding or gunshot wounds also warrant emergency care.
If your health concern doesn’t fall in any of the above, then you most likely need urgent care. Head to an urgent care facility if you’re down with the flu, you caught a cold, or you have a bladder infection. We’ll cover this is in more detail below, but for now, you at least have an idea what urgent care is and what it’s for.
A Primer on Primary Care
Primary care, as the term suggests, is a patient’s first point of contact in the health field. Primary care physicians are often the doctors you see over the course of your lifetime. They help prevent, diagnose, and treat injuries and illnesses.
They also help maintain or improve patient health through patient education. Some primary care doctors also focus on family health and also provide counseling.
In a nutshell, primary care focuses on both preventive medicine and ongoing care. They provide care for most health conditions, except for uncommon and emergency situations. If their patient has a rare or unusual condition, they refer the patient to a specialist.
Situations That Warrant Urgent Care
As you can see, some services of urgent care and primary care overlap. So, to further clarify things, below are a few situations where urgent care is your better choice.
Immediate Treatment for Non-Life-Threatening Injuries
In many cases of minor injuries, it’s better to head to an urgent care facility than a primary care doctor. However, you should also know the difference between minor and major injuries. Again, major injuries are those that can lead to deaths, such as those mentioned above.
Other examples of major injuries are compound fractures, head injuries, and eye injuries. Be sure to also visit an ED if the injury involves extensive burns. The same is true for injuries accompanied by paralysis or unconsciousness.
If your injuries are more painful than life-threatening, visit an urgent care doctor. Aside from minor wounds, urgent care facilities can also treat minor burns. They can also give you quick treatment for sprains, muscle strains, and minor broken bones.
Examining and Treating Minor Auto Accident Injuries
Six million car accidents—that’s how many road crashes take place in the U.S. every year. If you have been in one but only a minor fender-bender, an urgent care clinic can take care of you. Urgent care clinics often have an auto accident doctor on board throughout the day.
Plus, the best urgent care facilities also have more medical diagnostic tools at hand. They usually offer laboratory services, like X-rays, after all.
Now, a primary care doctor can still take a look at you after your minor car accident. However, not all primary care clinics have diagnostic equipment. In this case, the doctor would have to refer you to a laboratory first.
Speedy Care for Minor Illnesses
Most urgent care facilities can provide care for minor illnesses too. These can be bladder infections, ear pain, sinus pain, sore throats, or mild allergies. You can also visit an urgent care doctor for skin conditions like rashes and hives.
If You Need Diagnostic and Testing Services
Urgent care caters to a wider array of health conditions than primary care. Because of this, they rely on more extensive medical diagnostic and testing equipment. As such, their facilities are often better-equipped than a regular doctor’s clinic.
That said, go to an urgent care center if you need tests like a complete blood count (CBC) or a hemoglobin level count. The same is true if you need to undergo urinalysis or a pregnancy test.
If Your Primary Care Doctor Is Unavailable
Primary care doctors are humans too, so they also need their vacation time. Every year, around one-third to one-half of physicians go away for two to four weeks of vacation.
While doctors do deserve some R&R, what will you do if you get sick while your doctor is on holiday? In this case, you can rely on an urgent care center. They can take care of yourself and your treatment in the meantime.
When It’s Best to See a Primary Care Physician
As helpful as urgent care centers are, it’s best that you also have a primary care doctor. In fact, everyone should see a primary care doctor at least once a year. People with poorer health should visit a primary care physician more regularly.
Why and when exactly though? Let’s explore some of the answers to this question.
General Health Check-Ups
The best example of when to head for a primary care doctor’s visit is to get your annual health check-up. You don’t have to wait to get sick before you visit your primary care physician. Again, these doctors aim to help patients prevent sicknesses before they actually develop.
To Help Lower Your Risks of Health Problems
Undergoing routine testing and screening helps catch symptoms early on. This is especially true for genetic or hereditary diseases. By catching their early signs, your doctor can help prevent them from worsening.
Also, a primary care doctor can create a custom preventative program for you. Let’s say you are at risk of a certain disease, perhaps because of your job or because it’s in your genes. Your doctor can give you recommendations that can help you reduce these health risks.
If You Have a Chronic Disease
Chronic diseases affect the lives of more than 133 million people in the United States. These are health conditions that persist for three months or longer. Some are even long-term or permanent diseases.
Diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and heart disease are a few examples of chronic diseases. Cancer, epilepsy, seizures, and dental health problems are also chronic health conditions.
If you have a chronic disease, it’s best that you work with a primary care physician. You also need to see your doctor more than once a year to keep your condition in check. Also, your primary care doctor will monitor any changes to your existing problem.
Long Term Care for the Entire Family
Primary care doctors will look after your health and that of your entire family’s. They will learn each of your family members’ history, and from there, give you more tailored care. They will work with other doctors to ensure that you and your loved ones are in the best of health.
Less Time (and Money) Spent on ER Visits and Hospitalizations
U.S. adults with primary care physicians spend 33% less on healthcare costs. They also tend to have reduced needs for ER visits.
Another study found that people with family doctors use fewer hospital-based health services. They spend less time in hospitals, which also result in less money spent on these facilities.
All these prove how having a primary care doctor is essential to staying healthy. It’s very effective in preventing health problems from arising in the first place. That’s why you should utilize primary care at least once a year.
Combine Urgent Care and Primary Care for a Healthier, Happier You
There you have it, the case of urgent care vs. primary care and when you should choose which. Just keep in mind that urgent care is for acute conditions that need prompt treatment. It can be your best solution if you don’t need an ER but can’t afford to wait for your physician.
Primary care is the key to keeping chronic conditions in check. It’s also the best protection you have against health problems. And of course, it plays a major role in helping you maintain good health.
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