Understanding the Differences between General Practitioner, Urgent Care, and ER

Being in an emergency can be scary, especially if you or someone you love is injured. When a crisis strikes and you need medical care, you probably head off to the emergency room. However, that may not be necessary; and going to the emergency room for minor incidents bogs down the system, which puts other people in danger.

So it is important that you know which doctor you should go to: a general practitioner, an urgent care clinic, or the emergency room.

General Practitioner

A general practitioner is a standard doctor. You see this doctor for your annual exams and routine appointments. This doctor is also responsible for treating chronic conditions. If you are suffering from a seasonal cold, you might visit this doctor since it is not an emergency or life threatening. Other times to see this doctor include

  • Allergies
  • Mild injuries, such as a sprain
  • Routine exams
  • Diagnostic testing

As you can see, this doctor is designated for more routine illnesses. Although these doctors can help with injuries, the injury needs to be mild since you will usually have to wait a few days to see him or her.

Urgent Care

Urgent care clinics treat minor emergency wounds and illnesses that are not life threatening, but are serious enough to warrant immediate attention. For example, if you have cut your finger and are bleeding, you should visit an urgent care clinic. You might also visit an urgent care facility in the event of a severe sickness or somewhat serious wound. Other times to visit this doctor include

  • Sudden onset of illnesses with severe symptoms, such as the flu
  • Minor injuries such as scratches or superficial cuts
  • Worsening of chronic conditions and their symptoms
  • Minor infections, such as a toothache

As you can see, these facilities are designed for moderate illnesses and injuries. If something cannot wait, but isn't life threatening, an urgent care clinic is usually the best option.

Emergency Room

So when should you opt to visit the emergency room? It might seem obvious, but the differences between emergencies can be tricky—especially if you are in a panic. In general, you should go to the emergency room if

  • You have severe pain in stomach, head, or chest.
  • You are bleeding uncontrollably.
  • You have severe vomiting or diarrhea.
  • You cannot breathe.
  • You have had a seizure.
  • You have a broken bone.
  • You have been in a severe accident.

If you have severe pain or bleeding and cannot function properly, a trip the emergency room is usually warranted. However, all other cases should be taken to an urgent care facility or your primary care physician.

Hopefully, this quick guide will help you determine the differences between a medical emergency and standard care. If in doubt, call your doctor or visit an urgent care facility immediately. It's better to be safe than sorry.