Urgent Care or the Family Doctor: What's the Right Choice?

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When you want quick medical care but don't need an ER, you have two choices: schedule an appointment with your family doctor or head to urgent care, like AdventHealth's Centra Care or AdventHealth's Express Care at Walgreens.

Sometimes, the decision is obvious. Say you have a sore throat and wonder if you have strep.

If your regular doctor can't see you right away, waiting in discomfort for an appointment doesn't seem like the best option. You don't need an ER, so urgent care comes to mind as your best bet.

At other times, it can seem like a gray area of uncertainty and additional stress.

It's hard to always know if your symptoms are from a common illness or related to something more serious, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

While urgent care can be a quick and affordable option, staffed by professionals who can give you the best care possible, you have to know when it's most useful.

Here are some tips to consider when you're faced with the choice between urgent care and your family doctor.

Your primary care physician should be your first stop, if possible.

This one is important: Urgent care is not a substitute for your family care physician. This is often called your "primary" care doctor for a reason - because they should be your first stop, if possible.

Your doctor knows you. He or she is helping you look to the future by watching out for signs of long-term illness and discussing screenings, like mammograms.

Even if you want immediate help, contacting your doctor first is always recommended. They may be able to see you on short notice. And if not, they might want to schedule a follow-up appointment if you do decide to visit an urgent care location.

During times outside of normal business hours or on weekends, urgent care could be your first line of care, but you should always contact your primary care doctor or have your urgent care records sent to their office to keep your routine medical provider in the loop.

Urgent care can prevent an emergency room visit in many cases.

Urgent care can treat a wider variety of illnesses than you may assume. It can be the quick healthcare destination when an unexpected non-life threatening emergency happens to you or a loved one, which can include:

  • Minor broken bones (certain fractures, such as in the chest or head, may require an ER visit)
  • Other muscle or bone problems, including arthritis, gout and sprains
  • Common infections, including the flu, bronchitis and earache
  • Minor burns
  • Cuts (stitches)
  • Stomach and digestive conditions, including food poisoning, vomiting and acid reflux
  • X-rays and EKG (measures the heart's electrical signals)
  • Skin conditions such as rashes, poison ivy and eczema

For the full list of services at AdventHealth's Centra Care, check out our website.

For a full list of services at AdventHealth's Express Care at Walgreens, check out our website.

But if you suspect your symptoms are from a more serious condition, such as a heart attack or stroke, you should call 911 or get to the nearest ER right away.

Chronic or more long-term conditions should be managed by your primary care physician.

Let's say you have diabetes, and you notice you have been more tired than usual in recent days. You may be tempted to seek answers right away and go to urgent care.

However, while urgent care doctors may be able to help you in the moment, your primary care doctor has the larger scope of your health history, needs, medications and your care plan for whole health - in body, mind and spirit.

Here's a list of some medical services your regular doctor is best suited to provide and manage:

  • Well women's exams
  • Men's health exams
  • Annual physicals
  • Disease management (such as diabetes and high blood pressure)
  • Lab work

If you don't have a regular doctor, now is a great time to establish one. Learn more about primary care providers at AdventHealth and find one near you.

And if you are not aware of which urgent care centers are close by, it's a good idea to become more familiar with those, too. That way, you are ready to act quickly when you have an urgent health need.

You don't need an appointment for urgent care or express care, but you can make one online to avoid the wait. The website will also direct you to the nearest locations, many of which are open seven days a week.

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