Urgent Care vs Emergency Care

Primary Care

Primary care doctors have a history with their patients that may go back for years. This helps them keep track of medication history, blood tests, and prior illnesses. A family doctor knows your healthcare goals and which medications you have had bad reactions to or if you are trying to lose those 20 pounds. They are the best doctor to see for routine health exams, check-ups, minor injuries, aches/pains, and chronic diseases (such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol). They are also useful to see when you have a cold, flu, sore throat or other minor acute conditions during the week usually by making an appointment during standard office hours. Unfortunately, appointments can be limited and may be unavailable.

Emergency Care

Emergency physicians are doctors who are specially trained to care for every kind of medical emergency, including heart attacks, stroke, motor vehicle crashes, psychiatric emergencies and life-threatening conditions. Visits to the emergency department should be reserved for more serious or life-threatening emergencies such as symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or illnesses and injuries that threaten your life or limbs. Furthermore, if you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency and yet are unsure, go to the emergency department for evaluation. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians visits to the emergency room are warranted for the following problems:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sudden severe pain
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or changes in vision
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Changes in mental status, such as confusion


A visit to the emergency department for more minor common complaints can be quite costly. Billing can come from many sources, the doctor, radiology and the radiologist, the laboratory, and finally the bill to cover expenses from the hospital itself. A study by the National Institute of Health estimates the average bill for minor complains is about $1,283, 40% higher than the average rent (www.nih.gov).  According to the CDC wait times have increased by 25% in just 3 years and the mean wait time in 2009 was about an hour, non-emergent complaints may wait longer (www.cdc.gov).

Urgent Care

Urgent care or immediate care is for injury or illness that is too severe to wait for a primary care physician appointment but not to the level of life threatening that would require a visit to the emergency room. Urgent care clinics have extended hours to accommodate and even are open some holidays. There is usually no need for an appointment to go to an urgent care clinic. This helps avoid excessive cost associated with emergency room visits that aren’t truly emergent. Urgent care provides a number of services on site such as x-rays, blood sugar testing, blood drawing for send out tests, urine testing for infections, vaccines, etc. Simple broken bones, cold, flu, cough, eye and ear infections, cuts, sprains, strains, and asthma are just some of the conditions that can be treated by an urgent care clinic.