Primary Care, Urgent Care or Emergency Department: How to Decide

How do you decide where to go when you're sick or injured? We asked Mary Blades, MD, an internal medicine physician with The Christ Hospital Physicians to explain the differences between primary care, urgent care and the Emergency Department (ED) so you can make the right choice when you need care.

Start with primary care.

Dr. Blades says your primary care doctor is the best place to start because he or she manages your care, knows your medical history and has full access to your patient records.

"It's the lowest out-of-pocket option, and same-day appointments may be available," says Dr. Blades.

You can see your primary care provider for many illnesses or injuries, including:

  • urinary tract infection
  • upper respiratory problems like congestion and sore throat
  • mild asthma
  • indigestion and heartburn
  • nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • rash
  • minor allergic reactions
  • skin infection
  • cuts and scrapes
  • minor sprains and strains
  • minor burns

Did you know?

The Christ Hospital Physician's Primary Care offices each have a doctor on call every evening and weekend. Please remember the following before you call an on-call physician:

  • Remove any call blocking options from your phone.
  • Be ready with the phone number of a nearby 24-hour pharmacy.
  • Do not call after hours for medication refills, test results or appointments.

Urgent care is for quick, non-emergency treatment.

Urgent care centers provide same-day care for many illnesses and injuries.

"Urgent care is good when you need treatment fast but it's not an emergency," says Dr. Blades. "Go there if it's after hours or you can't wait for an appointment or the on-call doctor to return your call on weekends."

The Christ Hospital Urgent Care
treats everything your primary care provider treats, and wait times are often shorter than at the ED.  If you need to ultimately go to The Christ Hospital, Our Urgent Care can save you time as they are able to direct admit you to TCH.

Emergency care is for severe, life-threatening conditions.

Emergency departments are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They offer the widest range of services for emergency, after-hours care, including diagnostic tests and access to specialists. It is the most expensive option.

"Even though the wait times are typically longer, the ED is where you need to go if you have a severe or life-threatening condition," says Dr. Blades.

 You should call 911 or go to the ER if you:

  • think you're having a heart attack or stroke
  • have severe chest pain
  • have severe or sudden abdominal pain
  • have severe shortness of breath
  • feel weakness or paralysis in an arm or leg
  • lose consciousness
  • can't control bleeding
  • have severe difficulty swallowing
  • have difficulty speaking
  • have been in a serious accident

Click to find a primary care provider with The Christ Hospital Physicians in your area.