Where to go for care

Your Primary Care Provider or Urgent Center May Be Best Place to start

When you have a sudden, unexpected illness or injury, where should you go? The emergency department, your primary care provider, the local urgent care center?

While the emergency department may seem like the right place for a sudden injury or illness, there are things you should consider.

Did you know only 29 percent of emergency room visits require emergency care? Visiting the emergency room is also two to three times more expensive than going to an urgent care clinic or visiting your doctor’s office.

Learn when you should call your primary care doctor or go to the ER, walk-in care or urgent care.

When Should You Go to the Emergency Room?

An emergency room visit is the right choice for illnesses or injuries that are serious or life-threatening, and where the time needed to contact your primary care provider may mean permanent damage to your health. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Chest pain or severe abdominal pain.
  • Severe burns.
  • Deep cuts or bleeding that will not stop.
  • Sudden blurred or loss of vision.
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breathNumbness in the face, arm, or leg.
  • Sudden, severe headache (not a migraine).
  • Seizures.
  • Suspected fractures.
  • Mental confusion.
  • FaintingEye injuries.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. In the event of chest pain, you should call an ambulance. When the EMT staff arrives at your location, they can start providing care right away and prepare the hospital for your arrival. And never drive yourself to the hospital if you’ve experienced a severe injury – you could harm yourself or someone else trying to drive there.

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When should you call your primary care provider?

Except for the rare cases above, you should first call your primary care provider. (If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can find one near you here.)

Your primary care provider can treat most health concerns, including minor injuries, in a fast, convenient manner. Many also offer same-day appointments including after-hours care at many of our almost 60 locations throughout central Pennsylvania.

Call your PCP first before seeking care at other health care locations for these services:

  • Common illnesses, such as colds, flu, earaches, sore throats, coughs, migraines, fever, or rashes.
  • Minor injuries, such as sprains, back pain, minor cuts and burns, minor broken bones, or minor eye injuries.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Lice.
  • Pink eye.
  • Pregnancy or STD tests.

In addition to these services, your primary care provider is your partner in health, providing routine care, treating illness, managing chronic conditions, and acting as your advocate within the health care system. Your primary care provider generally provides you with most of your medical care unless you require specialized treatment for a health problem, at which time he or she will refer you to a specialist and help coordinate your treatment.

Video Visits Are Also an Option

Get the care you need, right where you need it. UPMC is here for you with our video visit options. Video visits can be scheduled for regular primary care and specialty appointments or if you are experiencing flu or COVID-19 symptoms via video visits.

You can choose from:

On-demand video visits

Online video visits are a convenient way to access a physician or advanced practice provider (APP) virtually from your home or office without making an appointment or going to the clinic. You will connect in real-time for an appointment to receive a diagnosis, treatment plan and prescription as needed. Find out more.

Scheduled video visits

Video Visits give you the opportunity to speak with a provider – sometimes your own primary care provider — in real-time using a webcam or mobile device. For these, you must make an appointment. Call your doctor today to see if a video visit is an option for you. For primary care, you can schedule a video visit directly through your patient portal. Learn more about video visits. Find out more.

Pediatric express care video visits

For kids under 18 years old, we offer Pediatric Express Care Video Visits. After-hours and weekend video visits are available from your home. Certified pediatric providers from UPMC Children’s Express Care are available to treat your child’s minor injuries and illnesses. No appointment is necessary – just go online. Find out more.

When Should You Go to an Urgent Care or Express Location?

Calling your primary care provider or pediatrician is typically recommended for immediate medical advice. However, we understand that minor injuries and illnesses do not always happen during business hours. UPMC walk-in clinics and urgent care centers are convenient options when you can’t get in to see your regular doctor.

Walk-in locations are staffed by primary care providers who can treat multiple concerns, including coughs, colds, rashes, urinary issues, eye or ear drainage, and fever. While these conditions have the potential to get worse, they are not emergencies requiring hospitalization. Find an urgent care center near you.

The Right Care at the Right Place

Your primary care provider and nearby urgent center can treat most minor illnesses and injuries in a timely manner. Save your trips to the emergency room just that — an emergency. If you aren’t sure, contact your PCP and use your best judgment.

For more information, go to UPMC.com/CentralPaRightCare.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.

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