ER, Urgent Care, or Primary Care: Which to Choose?

When your elderly relative has a medical emergency, it can be hard to know what to do. In some cases it might be best to call their primary care physician, but in others you may need to take a trip to the emergency room.

There are generally three options for urgent medical care: the emergency room, an urgent care clinic, or your primary care physician. Deciding which to use in any given situation can be complicated. All three are appropriate for different situations since they provide different levels and types of care. Wait times and costs are two other important factors for deciding where to go for treatment.

What Level of Care Does Your Loved One Require?

The level of care your loved one needs depends on their injury or illness. Emergency rooms provide the highest level of care for patients who are experiencing extreme, life threatening conditions. For example, if a loved one is showing symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, seizure, or severe allergic reaction, or has suffered a broken bone, deep wound, or serious burn, you should call 911 or promptly bring them to emergency department of the nearest hospital. Persistent fevers, severe pain, and long-lasting vomiting or diarrhea are also reasons that warrant a visit to the ER.

The most personalized care is going to come from your primary care physician (PCP). If you have any questions regarding a loved one’s care, try speaking with their PCP for instruction and clarification first. They are familiar with your loved one’s medical history, and there is no delay in them accessing pertinent information regarding underlying conditions, medications, and family history. Making an appointment with the family doctor is ideal if you suspect your loved one has the beginnings of a urinary tract infection (UTI), think their medications may need to be adjusted, they have gained or lost weight in a short period of time, or they are showing signs of the flu or pneumonia. However, primary care physicians may not always be available.

If your loved one’s PCP is not available and their illness or condition is not a serious medical emergency, an urgent care clinic is the next best option. These clinics are designed to take care of less serious problems that call for rapid treatment nonetheless. This includes minor injuries such as cuts, sprains, eye injuries, low-grade fevers, insect bites and simple fractures. They can also diagnose influenza (flu) and other common viral infections. Better yet, many urgent care clinics are open later than normal business hours and on weekends. Some may even be open 24 hours a day. While urgent care may not provide specialized care, these offices typically conduct on-site diagnostic tests for things like strep, flu, UTIs, blood counts, and many others. Think of the urgent care clinic as a kind of “emergency room light.”

Of course, all of these providers can vary in quality. You know your family doctor and what they are capable of, but it’s best to do some research on local emergency rooms and urgent care centers before you need them. Consumer Reports: Health rates hospitals by state, but these ratings are only accessible to subscribers. Otherwise, overall ratings can be hard to find. Yelp recently added ER wait times to its directory listings, and Best Urgent Care Directory offers listings of urgent care centers and customer ratings. Local listings are your best source of information, and individual hospital reports are available online through the Medicare website’s Hospital Compare tool.  Excerpt from