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Emergency, urgent care, or primary care – where to go for help

October 15, 2020

It's a common question: "Should I go to the emergency room or urgent care? Or should I see my primary care doctor?"

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

Where to go for care

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.

When should you go to primary care?

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.

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. 

  • Cough, cold, flu
  • Ear infections and sore throat
  • Minor injuries like sprains, bumps and bruises
  • Skin problems
  • Urinary tract infections

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

  • Allergies and asthma
  • Arthritis
  • COPD
  • Heart diesease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes and obesity
  • Substance abuse
Find your Baystate Health provider. 

When should you go to the emergency room?

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

  • Severe bleeding
  • Chest pains
  • No pulse
  • Inability to breathe
  • Severe eye injuries
  • Head, spinal cord or back injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Sudden change in mental state, sudden severe head ache, other stroke symptoms.

Find the nearest Baystate Health emergency department.

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.

Illness or injuries appropriate for urgent care include:

  • Colds, coughs, flu, fever, sore throat
  • Asthma and upper respiratory problems
  • Minor cuts or burns
  • Rash, skin and eye infections
  • Urinary tract infections (pain or burning when urinating)
  • Earaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Strains and sprains
  • Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting
  • Animal bites (if not severe)

Find the nearest Baystate Health urgent care location.

To learn more, download our urgent care infographic