linked in pixel
Woman getting her knee checked by urgent care doctor

Should I Go to Primary Care, Urgent Care or the Emergency Room?

Pinterest Logo

With more healthcare options than ever, it can be challenging to determine the best course of action when you or a loved one is sick or hurt. When should you make an appointment with your doctor? How 'urgent' is urgent care? Is it time to go to the emergency room?

Using the information below, assess the condition or symptoms you are facing to select the appropriate place for care.

Primary Care

Your primary care provider should be your first choice for care for acute and chronic illnesses because he or she is familiar with your medical history. It is important to establish a primary care physician for continuity of care and to have someone to call when medical issues arise. Primary care offers comprehensive and continuous care. Visit your primary care provider for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Back pain
  • Acid reflux
  • Management of all chronic diseases
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Disease screenings (cholesterol, diabetes, etc.)
  • Physicals or yearly check-ups
  • Medication refills

Of course, your primary care provider can always help treat shorter-term non-threatening illnesses including: 

  • Cold, cough, flu, sinus problems, fever
  • Upper respiratory symptoms
  • Ear infections
  • Urinary symptoms

If you are experiencing increasing symptoms of a chronic issue that is not an emergency, you can also reach out to your medical specialist, such as your cardiologist, gastroenterologist or OB/GYN.

Emergency Room

A visit to the emergency room is warranted only for potentially life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Wait times for non-life-threatening conditions could exceed an hour or more in the emergency room. Go to your nearest emergency room for these conditions:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or a severe asthma attack
  • Heart palpitations
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Broken bone (with deformity or open wound)
  • Seizures
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe headache
  • Weakness, slurred speech or confusion
  • Major head injuries
  • Severe burns
  • Severe pain
  • Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
  • Loss of eyesight

Urgent Care

Outside of regular office hours or extended hours, the same acute, non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries that you may normally go to your primary care provider for can also be treated at an urgent care facility. An urgent care facility can give you immediate medical attention for common illnesses usually without an appointment or long wait.

If you are unable to see your primary care physician or need immediate attention, you can visit an urgent care for:

  • Cold, cough, flu, sinus problems, fever
  • Sore throat and strep throat 
  • Flu test
  • COVID test
  • Ear pain or infection
  • Eye irritation or pink eye
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Sutures for lacerations and injuries requiring casting
  • Abscess 
  • Insect and animal bites
  • Rashes and minor burns
  • Sprains, strains and possible closed fractures (no open wound)
  • Minor head injury
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Mild abdominal pain
  • Mild asthma attack
  • Migraine or mild headache
  • Allergic reactions or allergies

Virtual Visit

Online virtual visits are a convenient way to quickly connect with a licensed healthcare provider. Virtual visits give you access to care and can be a good substitute for a brick-and-mortar urgent care when you are extremely contagious, in a hurry or unable to travel. You can access virtual visits two ways:

  1. Ochsner Connected Anywhere offers urgent care on demand visits and behavioral health scheduled appointments.
  2. Virtual Visits through MyOchsner are secure video appointments with an Ochsner provider.

Using your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can speak directly with a doctor who will assess your symptoms and give you a recommendation or if necessary, a prescription for certain conditions. Schedule a virtual visit for:

  • Headaches
  • Low back pain
  • Immunizations
  • Chronic disease management
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar
  • Nonlife-threatening allergic reactions
  • Minor burns or injuries
  • Mild asthma
  • Mild to moderate stomach aches
  • Nonlife-threatening allergic reactions
  • Minor burns or injuries
  • Mild asthma
  • Rashes or other skin irritations
  • Mild to moderate chest pain

When in doubt, patients can use Ochsner on Call if it is unclear where they should go.

Count on convenient urgent care when you need it. Find an Ochsner location near you.

You may also be interested in: