Should I Go to My Doctor, Urgent Care, or the ER for My Health Concern?

Nurse Care Manager talking to patient

Having choices when it comes to your health care decisions is a good thing. But making the right choice about where to go for care can be overwhelming and time consuming, whether it be immediately following a painful injury or when you’re caring for a sick child. Emergency rooms might seem like a good option with 24-hour availability, but a visit to the ER can have high out-of-pocket costs and long wait times. So what are your options to get the right care for the best price?

Are you or a loved one experiencing a life threatening event?

  • Choking
  • Severe pain, trauma or blood loss
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shock
No
Yes

Call 911 immediately

Go to your closest Emergency Room

Is your PCP available for a phone call or appointment, including after-hours support?

No, I don’t have a PCP or they’re unavailable

Yes, they’re available

Make an appointment with your Primary Care Physician

Your doctor knows you best and may be able to direct you to the best care.

Does your PCP or health insurance provider offer a virtual doctor visit service, like Doctor On Demand?

Yes, they’re available

Try telemedicine, like Doctor On Demand

No, I don’t have access

Visit a Convenience Care clinic

Go to your local Urgent Care center

Consider urgent care

  • No access to a PCP Sprains and strains
  • Infections
  • Minor injuries
  • Minor burns
  • Rashes
  • Bites
  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Eye and ear infections
  • Strep throat
  • Skin conditions like poison ivy or ringworm

Go to the emergency room

  • No access to a PCP Sprains and strains
  • Infections
  • Minor injuries
  • Minor burns
  • Rashes
  • Bites
  • Cuts
  • Bruises
  • Eye and ear infections
  • Strep throat
  • Skin conditions like poison ivy or ringworm

Consider telemedicine

  • Cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Eye and ear issues
  • Asthma and allergies
  •  Rashes, hives, sunburn and other skin issues
  •  Urinary tract infections
  •  Sinus or congestion issues
  •  Headaches or migraines
  •  Stress and anxiety
  •  Upset stomach
  •  Immediate advice for minor ailments or conditions
  •  Prescription refills
  • To review medications

Why Is It Important to Have a Relationship With Your PCP?

“The better the relationship you have with your primary care physician, the better they can serve you when you need something. The best first step is to make sure you have that relationship with your PCP,” says Dr. Patricia L. Toro, Associate Medical Director at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. “They can advise you quickly and be proactive about follow-up care.”

Scheduling annual check-ups and keeping current with tests and screenings are ways to ensure that when an injury or sudden onset of symptoms occurs, your PCP has a full view of your medical history and is in the best position to guide you.

What If You Don’t Have a PCP?

If you don’t have a PCP to consult, your PCP doesn’t provide after-hours support, or you require immediate in-person care, urgent care centers are a convenient option, with some offering  24-hour availability. These centers are effective for handling those cases when it’s not a life-threatening situation, but you feel like you or your loved one needs to be seen in-person by a medical professional. Ear infections occurring over the weekend, sports injuries, and other time-sensitive symptoms can be treated at an urgent care center and followed-up by your regular doctor.


"Urgent care centers are effective for handling those cases when it’s not a life-threatening situation, but you feel like you or your loved one needs to be seen by a medical professional."


What Are Your Other Options?

Some urgent issues may be addressed without a visit to a facility. Your PCP practice may offer telemedicine as part of their services, or apps like Doctor on Demand can efficiently connect you to board-certified doctors who can address some  medical issues you may experience through a virtual visit. If you are using the app because your PCP is unavailable or the issue takes place after-hours, the doctor can also send notes on the visit directly to your PCP, should you request that the information be shared.

Of course, emergencies should always head to the emergency room.

No type of acute pain should be delayed in treatment. Chest and abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding are all reasons to go to an emergency room immediately. Head injuries, even if they appear innocuous, should also be immediately checked at an ER.

Tips for Readiness

The next time you face an unanticipated medical event, be prepared. Start by finding a PCP or strengthening your relationship with your existing doctor. Have the phone number saved and ready to go in your mobile phone, so you can easily access your doctor. Many practices have coverage for non-office hours, so you likely can reach your doctor or a close colleague with access to your records when you need it.

 You can get further prepared by downloading the Doctor on Demand app from the App Store or Google Play. In the app, you can make note of the urgent care and convenience care clinics that are closest to your home and work, including their hours of operation.

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