- Urgent care clinics provide a convenient and often cheaper alternative to seeing a primary care physician, especially for non-life-threatening conditions that require immediate attention.
- Primary care physicians play a crucial role in long-term health management due to their familiarity with patients' medical history, making them ideal for managing chronic conditions.
- Urgent care clinics handle similar conditions as primary care clinics, such as basic shots, prescription renewals, and tests, and often have longer operating hours.
- While primary care physicians provide continuity of care and manage long-term medications, urgent care clinics offer convenience and affordability, with many accepting insurance.
- The main difference between urgent care and primary care is that urgent care should supplement, not replace, primary care. Urgent care is ideal for immediate, non-chronic issues, while primary care is best for long-term health management.
Does this sound familiar?
“Should I just go to my regular doctor?”
You went to work today but you feel sick. You aren’t really sure how sick you are (who knows, maybe it’s allergies?) and you decide it’s not worth the trouble of rescheduling all you have lined up for the day. You will still take your daughter to ballet class, you will still cook dinner, you will still spend a few hours finishing up your presentation. You know you probably should see a doctor, but don’t have the time to make a call, leave a message, receive a call back, be put on hold, pull over, take out your calendar, and ultimately schedule an appointment two weeks out when you know you will be healthy by then!
What about that urgent care clinic you drive by 5x per day?
You know what you have isn’t “urgent…”
You are confident you don’t need to go to the ER…
The truth is, that urgent care and convenient care are synonymous and urgent care is a great option if you are looking for a quicker and often cheaper way to a see a doctor.
Urgent Care vs. Primary Care Have Different Purposes
Your primary doctor plays a very important part in your long term health.
- PCPs know your medical history and the conditions you’ve suffered from. They have access to your medical records and can therefore come to more educated conclusions when you come to them with symptoms. This is particularly important when managing chronic conditions.
- PCPs can be your home base for illness or chronic condition management, and can advise you on the next step based on everything you’ve already tried.
Urgent care clinics are here to support patients going through urgent medical conditions. They don’t deal with life threatening conditions – that’s what the ER is for – but they do help patients who can’t wait for a family doctor appointment.
- They are open much longer hours than primary clinics, sometimes even 24/7, and were founded on a walk-in culture. While walking-in is still possible, many of them accept appointments and allow you to actually be seen same day.
- You can walk into an urgent care clinic and pay a fraction of what you would at the ER.
- Many clinics are working to connect the experience back to PCPs by sharing information about your visit with your doctor.
What Conditions are Treated by Urgent Care vs. Primary Care?
Urgent care clinics handle basically the same conditions as a primary doctor’s clinic.
- When you’re not feeling well
- The times you need basic shots (like the flu shot) or stitches.
- To get your prescriptions renewed
- When you need tests done (x-rays, lab tests, strep tests)
- Bonus: you might even run into your regular doctor doing an evening shift at the urgent care clinic after your primary clinic closes its doors for the day.
There are, however, circumstances when you should consider your primary care physician over an urgent care. And if you don’t have a PCP, these are reasons to get one.
- Having a steady care provider and team familiar with yourself and your family
- Managing long-term medications, including medication changes
- Supporting chronic condition, illness and pain
- Maintaining complete medical records at a single point
- Having all referrals and specialist joined to the same central provider team
What is the Cost Between Urgent Care and Primary Care?
- Walking into an urgent care clinic is convenient. They’re often located at commercial centers, so you can stop by while running errands. The fact you don’t need an appointment makes it easier.
- While primary doctor appointments have a reputation of accepting insurance and therefore being more affordable, most urgent cares do as well, making cost comparable. With Solv, you will always know whether or not your insurance is accepted at a particular clinic and what paying out of pocket would cost.
Time to Decide: Urgent Care or Primary Care?
In general, the main difference between an urgent care and a primary care is that the urgent care should be used as supplemental to primary care and never as a replacement to them. Though urgent care can be used instead of a primary care doctor in some cases, it is not recommended. Need to choose between an urgent care clinic and your primary doctor?
- If you need someone who knows your history and can help you manage your health long term, make an effort to schedule an appointment with your primary doctor.
- If it’s urgent and after hours, or if you need one-time help that’s not related to a chronic or long term condition, verify that your closest urgent care clinic accepts your insurance plan. Find out in advance how much you’ll pay, make an appointment online or go ahead and walk into an urgent care clinic.
Frequently asked questions
What is the main difference between urgent care and primary care?The main difference between urgent care and primary care is their purpose. Primary care doctors play a key role in long-term health management and are familiar with your medical history. Urgent care clinics, on the other hand, are designed to support patients with urgent medical conditions that are not life-threatening. They are open longer hours and can often see patients the same day.
Should I replace my primary care doctor with an urgent care clinic?No, urgent care should be used as a supplement to primary care, not a replacement. While urgent care can be used instead of a primary care doctor in some cases, it is not recommended as they do not have access to your complete medical history and cannot help manage long-term health conditions.
What conditions can be treated at an urgent care clinic?Urgent care clinics can handle many of the same conditions as a primary doctor’s clinic. This includes when you're not feeling well, need basic shots or stitches, need prescriptions renewed, or require tests like x-rays or lab tests.
When should I consider seeing my primary care physician over an urgent care clinic?You should consider seeing your primary care physician for long-term medication management, chronic condition support, maintaining complete medical records at a single point, and having all referrals and specialists joined to the same central provider team.
Are urgent care clinics more expensive than primary care clinics?Not necessarily. While primary doctor appointments are known for accepting insurance and being more affordable, most urgent care clinics also accept insurance, making the cost comparable. Some urgent care clinics may even be cheaper, especially if you're paying out of pocket.
Can I walk into an urgent care clinic without an appointment?Yes, urgent care clinics were founded on a walk-in culture and many still accept walk-ins. However, many also accept appointments, allowing you to be seen the same day.
Do urgent care clinics share information about my visit with my primary care doctor?Many urgent care clinics are working to connect the experience back to primary care providers by sharing information about your visit with your doctor.
How do I decide between an urgent care clinic and my primary doctor?If you need someone who knows your history and can help you manage your health long term, you should schedule an appointment with your primary doctor. If it’s urgent and after hours, or if you need one-time help that’s not related to a chronic or long term condition, you can visit an urgent care clinic. Always verify that the urgent care clinic accepts your insurance plan and find out how much you’ll pay in advance.