Urgent Care vs. Primary Care Doctor: What's the difference?
Does this sound familiar?
“Should I just go to my regular doctor?”
You went to work today but you feel sick. You aren’t really sure how sick you are (who knows, maybe it’s allergies?) and you decide it’s not worth the trouble of rescheduling all you have lined up for the day. You will still take your daughter to ballet class, you will still cook dinner, you will still spend a few hours finishing up your presentation. You know you probably should see a doctor, but don’t have the time to make a call, leave a message, receive a call back, be put on hold, pull over, take out your calendar, and ultimately schedule an appointment two weeks out when you know you will be healthy by then!
What about that urgent care clinic you drive by 5x per day?
You know what you have isn’t “urgent…”
You are confident you don’t need to go to the ER…
The truth is, that urgent care and convenient care are synonymous and urgent care is a great option if you are looking for a quicker and often cheaper way to a see a doctor.
Urgent Care vs. Primary Care Have Different Purposes
Your primary doctor plays a very important part in your long term health.
PCPs know your medical history and the conditions you’ve suffered from. They have access to your medical records and can therefore come to more educated conclusions when you come to them with symptoms. This is particularly important when managing chronic conditions.
PCPs can be your home base for illness or chronic condition management, and can advise you on the next step based on everything you’ve already tried.
Urgent care clinics are here to support patients going through urgent medical conditions. They don’t deal with life threatening conditions – that’s what the ER is for – but they do help patients who can’t wait for a family doctor appointment.
They are open much longer hours than primary clinics, sometimes even 24/7, and were founded on a walk-in culture. While walking-in is still possible, many of them accept appointments and allow you to actually be seen same day.
You can walk into an urgent care clinic and pay a fraction of what you would at the ER.
Many clinics are working to connect the experience back to PCPs by sharing information about your visit with your doctor.
What Conditions are Treated by Urgent Care vs. Primary Care?
Urgent care clinics handle basically the same conditions as a primary doctor’s clinic.
When you’re not feeling well
The times you need basic shots (like the flu shot) or stitches.
To get your prescriptions renewed
When you need tests done (x-rays, lab tests, strep tests)
Bonus: you might even run into your regular doctor doing an evening shift at the urgent care clinic after your primary clinic closes its doors for the day.
There are, however, circumstances when you should consider your primary care physician over an urgent care. And if you don’t have a PCP, these are reasons to get one.
Having a steady care provider and team familiar with yourself and your family
Managing long-term medications, including medication changes
Supporting chronic condition, illness and pain
Maintaining complete medical records at a single point
Having all referrals and specialist joined to the same central provider team
What is the Cost Between Urgent Care and Primary Care?
Walking into an urgent care clinic is convenient. They’re often located at commercial centers, so you can stop by while running errands. The fact you don’t need an appointment makes it easier.
While primary doctor appointments have a reputation of accepting insurance and therefore being more affordable, most urgent cares do as well, making cost comparable. With Solv, you will always know whether or not your insurance is accepted at a particular clinic and what paying out of pocket would cost.
Time to Decide: Urgent Care or Primary Care?
In general, urgent care should be used as supplemental to primary care and never as a replacement to them. Though urgent care can be used instead of a primary care doctor in some cases, it is not recommended. Need to choose between an urgent care clinic and your primary doctor?
If you need someone who knows your history and can help you manage your health long term, make an effort to schedule an appointment with your primary doctor.
If it’s urgent and after hours, or if you need one-time help that’s not related to a chronic or long term condition, verify that your closest urgent care clinic accepts your insurance plan. Find out in advance how much you’ll pay, make an appointment online or go ahead and walk into an urgent care clinic.