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urgent care vs emergency room

Urgent Care vs Emergency and Primary Care – Where to Go for Help

May 27, 2022
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When an injury or illness comes up all of a sudden, like an unexpected fall or an onset of chest pains or fever, many people feel uncertain about what to do. When your symptoms seem serious and your regular primary care provider's office is closed, you might be left wondering "Where should I go?"

COVID-19 has sometimes led to more confusion, as some cases are life-threatening and many others are not. If you have non-life threatening symptoms of COVID-19, please do not walk in to healthcare facilities without calling first. In many cases, you can be seen via telehealth. And if you're at high risk for severe COVID-19, you can receive Paxlovid treatment by simply visiting Mass.Gov. In a life-threating emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room. 

As the region's largest healthcare system, Baystate Health has locations and services that are designed to get you the right care at the right time. With five hospitals throughout western Massachusetts and the only Level 1 trauma center in the region, Baystate Health is here to help.

Below, we break down how to decide where to go: primary care, urgent care, or emergency?

When should you go to primary care?

Your primary care doctor knows you, your health history and may be the perfect person to may be the perfect resource tom make sure you get consistent, quality care. If you are not feeling well, call your doctor's office for guidance. 

Call your primary care practice to be seen for new or ongoing symptoms.

  • Cough, cold, flu
  • Ear infections and sore throat
  • Skin problems
  • Urinary tract infections/ pain or burning when urinating

Your primary care doctor can also help you coordinate care for chronic conditions like:

  • Allergies and asthma
  • Issues with control of chronic conditions (for example: arthritis, COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity)

Find your Baystate Health provider. 

As part of our ongoing efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Baystate Health is increasing its use of telehealth video visits. These visits allow you to stay in the safety and comfort of your home, while providing a real-time connection (similar to FaceTime or Skype) with your healthcare provider on a mobile device, phone or computer.

Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

It's a common question: What is the difference between urgent care and emergency care? And which is faster, the ER or urgent care?

While emergency rooms are open 24-7 to care for the sick and injured, urgent care centers are a popular alternative for a fast and economical alternative to non-life threatening care of illnesses and injuries.

Urgent care can come at a lower co-pays for patients – often a difference as great as $50 compared to $200 depending on your insurance provider – and savings for the medical system as a whole. And urgent care can be faster in the sense that an emergency room sees the sickest patients first, while at an urgent care center it is usually first-come, first served.

When should you go to urgent care?

Urgent care centers are for conditions or injury that require professional care, but will not get worse if not immediately treated.

Urgent care centers should be used only when your primary care physician is not available – such as after hours, on weekends, and during holidays. At Baystate Health, you can be seen at urgent care either in person or through telehealth visits. 

Illness or injuries appropriate for urgent care include:

  • Colds, coughs, flu, fever, sore throat
  • Asthma and upper respiratory problems
  • Severe cuts that require stiches
  • Rash, skin and eye infections
  • Urinary tract infections/ pain or burning when urinating 
  • Earaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Strains and sprains
  • Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting

Find the nearest Baystate Health urgent care location.

When should you go to the emergency room?

If the situation requires immediate medical treatment, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

What qualifies as emergency care?

  • Severe bleeding
  • Chest pains
  • Inability to breathe
  • Severe eye injuries
  • Head, spinal cord or back injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Sudden change in mental state, sudden severe head ache, other stroke symptoms.

Find the nearest Baystate Health emergency department.

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