Primary, Urgent & Emergency Care | What's the Difference?

The first few minutes after experiencing an accident, injury or illness are typically the most important – especially as you decide with whom to entrust your medical care. But assessing the situation and deciding the best type of health care in just an instance can be tricky. 

From broken bones to allergic reactions, knowing when to choose primary care, urgent care or emergency care can be the most important step in receiving the care you need, when and where you need it. Next time you require medical care to restore your health, follow this guide to make sure you are choosing the right form of care to best meet your needs.

Primary Care

What is primary care?

Primary care is a unique branch of care that includes health care providers, usually family medicine doctors, internists and pediatricians, specifically trained and skilled in health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education as well as the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses.

When should you use primary care?

Scheduling routine doctor’s visits, including your annual physical exam, is important to maintain overall health. Over time, your primary care doctor forms a complete picture of your past and current health to better protect you against future health complications. In between exams, your primary care doctor can also help to diagnose and treat minor illnesses and injuries.

Where can you go for primary care?

Family Medicine at UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital serves as your first point of entry for health care services. Use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a primary care doctor in your area, and schedule an appointment today.

Urgent Care

What is urgent care?

Urgent care clinics are same-day clinics, which can handle a variety of health conditions that require immediate medical attention but that are not life threatening. While primary care clinics typically see patients Monday through Friday during regular business hours, urgent care clinics offer services after hours, on weekends and during holidays.

When should you use urgent care?

Though you should always try to set up an appointment with your primary care doctor before using an urgent care clinic, choose urgent care for non-emergency conditions that arise when your primary care doctor is not available, such as:

  • Upper respiratory problems, such as sore throat, earache or sinus symptoms
  • Non-life threatening allergic reactions
  • Minor skin infections and rashes
  • Minor burns
  • Insect bites, minor animal or human bites
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Minor cuts, contusions or abrasions 

Where can you go for urgent care?

UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital offers Urgent Care at Prairie Medical Park in Cedar Falls, and United Medical Park in Waterloo, on a no-appointment basis. Urgent care is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on holidays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Emergency Room

What is an emergency room?

An emergency room (ER) is usually part of a hospital or medical center designated to treat patients experiencing any type of emergency or trauma. Emergency rooms operate around-the-clock, providing full emergency medical support and resources on a walk-in basis.

When should you go to the emergency room?

Always choose emergency care when you are faced with a severe, life-threatening condition. Dial 9-1-1 or visit your ER right away if you or someone around you is experiencing any of the following emergency symptoms or conditions:

  • Chest pains or symptoms of heart attack or stroke
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Head injury or pain
  • Poisoning
  • Choking or difficulty breathing
  • Open fractures, severe cuts, burns or uncontrollable bleeding
  • Fever in elderly individuals or young children

Where can you go for emergency room care?

UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital also offers the leading emergency care in Waterloo, treating more emergency patients than any other Cedar Valley hospital. Emergency departments at UnityPoint Health – Allen Hospital are open 24 hours, seven days a week.

*When in doubt, always choose emergency care or contact a MyUnityPoint Nurse to determine the best care for your condition.