BHealthy Blog

When You Should Go to Your Doctor, Urgent Care, or the Emergency Room

Your baby has a high fever that won’t go away; your spouse accidentally slipped on the stairs at their job, or maybe you woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain; all of these are unexpected situations that will leave you and your family seeking medical attention.

That’s why it’s crucial to know where to go for the appropriate care when an unexpected injury or illness occurs. Depending on the time of day and where you are, you may have several options including your primary care provider, an urgent care or walk-in clinic, or an emergency room. 

But which do you choose?

Dr. Wilson Cruz Leal, primary care provider, and Dr. Sarah Tshitenge, an emergency medicine physician, explain the differences between these three health care options.

When Should You Visit Your Primary Care Provider?

If you have a non-emergent medical situation, your primary care doctor should be your first point of contact.

“Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider is crucial for maintaining good health,” said Dr. Wilson Cruz, primary care provider from Baptist Health La Clínica del Pueblo. “It enables your doctor to become familiar with your medical history and provides you with personalized preventative care options like vaccinations and health screenings. Your doctor can also prescribe medications for chronic conditions and monitor any changes in your health.”

Your health insurance will offer a co-pay option for doctor visits, which is less expensive and less waiting time than going to the emergency room.

What is an Urgent Care Clinic For?

When your primary care doctor is not available, or you need care after normal office hours, an urgent care may be a good option. Urgent care clinics can take care of medical problems that could become worse if you wait.  You can be seen without an appointment. The rates for a visit are about the same as a doctor’s office depending on your insurance coverage, but are usually much less than a visit to the ER. 

Urgent Care locations can treat some of the following conditions

  • Common Cold
  • Influenza (Flu) 
  • Earaches
  • Sore Throat
  • Migraine
  • Fever
  • Rashes
  • Minor Injuries 
  • Sprains
  • Back Pain
  • Minor Cuts
  • Minor Burns
  • Minor Broken Bones
  • Minor Eye Injuries

“If the urgent care physician or provider deems it necessary to transfer a patient to the emergency room, they will be the ones making the recommendations and helping a patient get to the ER,” said Dr. Sarah Tshitenge, emergency medicine physician at  Baptist Health-Fort Smith.

What’s the difference between the ER and an Urgent Care and when should you use them?

You should visit an emergency room if you or a loved one show symptoms of a life-threatening condition such as chest pain with difficulty breathing, stroke, become unconscious or unresponsive, have a visible broken bone or a wound that is heavily bleeding. 

In a life-threatening emergency, it’s important to call 9-1-1 so that paramedics can assess and begin caring for the patient prior to arriving at the hospital. Never drive yourself or a loved one to the ER in an life-threatening situation. 

Some of the common reasons to go to an ER include:

  • Chest pain
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Severe burns
  • Deep cuts or uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sudden blurred vision
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or loss of coordination or balance
  • Numbness in the face, arm or leg
  • Sudden severe headache (not migraine)
  • Seizures
  • High fever
  • Any other condition you believe is life-threatening

How can patients get established with a primary care provider?

If you or a family member is interested in getting established with a primary provider, they can call Baptist Health Healthline at 1-888-BAPTIST or can contact a primary care clinic directly that’s covered by their insurance.

To find a Baptist Health Urgent  centers near you, visit the following page.

Learn more about Baptist Health Emergency Departments here.