Primary Care vs. Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room: Where to Go for Care


Let's say you strain your elbow playing tennis with your kids. Or maybe you notice a mark on your skin that doesn't look quite right. Do you make an appointment with your family doctor? Do you visit urgent care? Or go straight to the emergency room? 

Northern Michigan is full of close-to-home locations for receiving safe, compassionate care. But when you’re not feeling right, which do you choose?

This article should help make it clear.

Your medical home starts with primary care

Your Munson Healthcare family doctor, pediatrician, or internist is also known as a primary care provider.

He or she is the perfect place to start when you need non-emergency care.

  • Pediatricians treat newborns and children up to age 21 to help them stay healthy physically, mentally, and socially.
  • Family medicine doctors are trained to treat patients of all ages.
  • Internal medicine doctors treat adult patients starting at age 18.

Most primary care offices offer same-day appointments and on-call weekend hours. Some clinics also offer physician-staffed weekend and evening hours. Calling your primary care provider should be your first choice for help with non-emergency conditions, even after hours.

For added support, Munson Healthcare offers Virtual Visit services, where you can see a Munson Healthcare physician from the comfort of your home or other private setting. For more information, click here or speak with your Munson Healthcare primary care provider.

  • Allergies and minor allergic reactions
  • Asthma
  • Check-ups and regular screenings
  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Diabetes
  • Exercise and nutrition counseling
  • General medical questions and/or concerns
  • High cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Management of a chronic condition
  • Mild fevers in adults and children
  • Mild to moderate pain or discomfort
  • Minor cuts and burns
  • Preventative and diagnostic screenings, such as cholesterol tests, breast exams, and prostate exams
  • Sprains, aches, and fractures
  • Vaccines and immunizations
  • Well-child visits, back-to-school, and routine check-ups

*The symptoms above are guidelines and not a complete list.

Your physician can provide treatment and help coordinate any additional specialty services you may need, like rehabilitation, prescriptions, or additional testing. Click the button below to find a nearby Munson Healthcare Primary Care doctor.

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Urgent care: when you need non-emergency medical care today

Munson Healthcare Urgent Care or Walk-in Clinics help fill a vital gap when you become sick or injured, but your regular doctor is not available. These facilities can provide care when you can’t wait for an appointment or when you need to be seen during the evening or on a weekend.

Conditions right for Urgent Care or Walk-In facilities:

  • Allergic reaction with widespread swelling/itching
  • Asthma not responding to usual medication
  • Breathing difficulties, such as mild to moderate asthma
  • Cuts that don’t involve much blood, but may need stitches
  • Earache
  • Eye irritation or redness
  • Fever ≥ 101° F (38.3° C) or lasting two or more days
  • Flu
  • Minor broken bones and fractures in fingers or toes
  • Minor accidents and falls
  • Moderate back problems
  • Moderate to severe sore throat or cough
  • Significant or increasing pain, especially with fever
  • Sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration

*The symptoms above are not a complete list, but rather guidelines.

Pro tip: Choosing an urgent care instead of going to the emergency room may save you time and money. Check with your insurance carrier to know the out-of-pocket cost difference between urgent care and emergency room treatment.

Virtual Urgent Care

Looking for a virtual option? Munson Healthcare Virtual Urgent Care is available for ages 3 and up from anywhere in Michigan. 

Reserve Your Spot Online

Munson Healthcare Emergency Department: For life-threatening events needing care NOW

The emergency room (ER) is meant only for serious illness and injury. This means medical, surgical, or psychiatric care, and may include:

  • Change in mental status (such as confusion)
  • Chest pain and/or left arm pain (heart attack warning signs)
  • Coughing blood or vomiting blood
  • Evaluation of assault, physical or sexual abuse, or child abuse
  • If you’re pregnant and have vaginal bleeding or pelvic/abdominal pain
  • Injured neck or spinal cord, severe head injury
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Major injuries, such as bones poking through skin
  • Possible drug overdose or poisoning
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing/swallowing
  • Seizures
  • Severe burns
  • Serious cuts (cuts that won't stop bleeding or wounds that won't close) and infections
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Severe or persistent vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration
  • Severe pain
  • Stroke symptoms, including slurred speech, lost or double vision, and others
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or changes in vision
  • Thoughts of suicide or acts of self-harm

*The symptoms above are not a complete list, but rather guidelines.

In a severe, life-threatening emergency, always call 9-1-1. If you think you’re having a heart attack or a stroke, do not drive yourself to the Emergency Department or travel by car to the hospital. Minutes matter. Life-saving care can begin in an ambulance, and you need care immediately.

Munson Healthcare Emergency Rooms are open 24 hours every day throughout northern Michigan. These facilities are staffed with emergency medicine specialists and specialty-trained teams of physician assistants, nurses, and technicians.

Still not sure? Call Munson Healthcare Ask-A-Nurse

If you have any non-emergency medical question you can talk to a registered nurse seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Call Munson Healthcare Ask-A-Nurse at 231-935-0951

Ask-a-Nurse   231-935-0951