Primary Care, Urgent Care, or the Emergency Room: Which Should You Visit?
Where To Go To Get the Right Care at the Right Place
Needham, Mass. – You may have heard that hospitals are busier than ever. You’ve just slipped in your driveway and think you may have sprained or broken your ankle. You need to see a doctor. But where? Should you go to the nearest emergency room, or to urgent care? Should you call your primary care physician?
“If you feel you are experiencing potentially life-threatening symptoms, go to the emergency room or call 911,” recommends Ed Ullman, MD, chief of emergency medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Needham (BID Needham). “For non-urgent or non-life-threatening symptoms, visiting your primary care physician or going to an urgent care center may be a better option.”
When To Contact Your Primary Care Physician
Primary care physicians know their patients and their patients’ medical history best. They can diagnose and treat non-urgent conditions such as minor infections, headaches, muscle pains, minor scrapes and bruises.
“Primary care providers also help manage a patient’s chronic conditions and are a valuable resource for patients in helping them to effectively manage their care,” said Laura Garelick, MD, chief of Family Practice at BID Needham. “For some conditions, telehealth may also be an option, allowing the patient to have an appointment with their provider in the comfort of their own home.”
Examples of care available through primary care:
- Cold, flu and sore throat
- Ear, sinus or urinary tract infection
- Headaches and muscle pains
- Stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation
- Minor scrapes or bruises
- Managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure
To find a Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) primary care physician near you, please visit the BILH Find a Doctor page.
When To Go to the Urgent Care Center
For non-emergent injuries that are beyond the scope of primary care but don’t rise to the level of emergency care, urgent care centers are also an option. Urgent care centers can perform a multitude of tests — with some locations offering X-rays and lab services, and some centers offering IV fluids for dehydration or IV antibiotics for an infection. Additionally, visiting an urgent care center can save you time and money.
“Urgent care is an important option when you need care for a non-life-threatening emergency,” said John Fogarty, president of BID Needham. “Right now, the average wait time in the emergency department can be a number of hours, compared to typically a shorter wait at an urgent care center.”
Examples of care available through urgent care:
- Minor animal bites or stings
- Minor cuts or burns
- Pink eye
- Rashes or other skin issues
- Primary care concerns (if unable to see primary care provider)
Some urgent care centers even offer the ability to reserve a place in line, online, so patients can wait from the comfort of their own homes. Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) operates Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Dedham and Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Chestnut Hill. They are open seven days a week and treat adults and children over the age of two.
“A key differentiating factor with Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Dedham and Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Chestnut Hill is you will be seen by a board-certified emergency physician, which is unique in the urgent care field,” said Ullman. “The level of evaluation and care you are given is of very high quality.”
Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Dedham is conveniently located at 910 Washington Street, Dedham. Free parking is available, and the center is located near the 34E MBTA bus line. Patients can reserve a place in line, online, by visiting the Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Dedham website or by calling 781-453-7200.
Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Chestnut Hill is conveniently located at 200 Boylston Street, first floor, close to Soul Cycle, and near public transportation, including the MBTA Green Line B branch and the 60 MBTA bus line. Patients can reserve a place in line, online, by visiting the Beth Israel Lahey Health Urgent Care – Chestnut Hill website or by calling 617-278-8500.
For more information and a list of other Beth Israel Lahey Health-affiliated urgent care centers, please visit the BILH Urgent Care website and choose a location that is convenient for you.
When To Go to the Emergency Department at the Hospital
For managing chronic illnesses or cold and flu symptoms, start with a call to your primary care physician’s office. For that sprained or broken ankle, rash, and other mild-to-moderate symptoms, going to urgent care can save you time and money. Patients needing more complex emergency care should call 911 or seek care at the closest the emergency department.
“We want patients to know they have options,” said Fogarty. “Sometimes an urgent care center can be the better option. Other times, a visit to your primary care doctor is your best bet. But there will be times when a going to the emergency room is your only option and regardless of where you choose to go, we are here to care for you.”
Examples of care available through the emergency department:
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Serious burns, cuts, or lacerations
- Broken bones or dislocated joints
- Fainting, changes in mental state, or slurred speech
- Head or eye injuries
- Weakness and/or numbness in one side
- You should also visit the emergency department if another provider instructs you to do so, or if it’s your only option at the current time and location
About Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Needham
Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Needham (BID Needham) is a licensed 58-bed acute care community hospital. BID Needham has served residents in Needham and surrounding communities for more than 100 years. The hospital has been recognized by several organizations for quality and safety, including five-out-of-five stars from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an “A” grade from the Leapfrog Group, the Gold Seal of Approval from The Joint Commission and the 2021 American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Gold Plus Achievement Award.
BID Needham is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,600 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.