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How to Choose Between Convenient and Urgent Care

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You don’t necessarily have to wait for an appointment with your primary care doctor if illness or injury strikes. With options such as urgent care and convenient care clinics, it’s easier than ever to get the treatment you need quickly, especially at night or on the weekends.

While more options mean more flexibility, they can also cause confusion. What are the pros and cons of convenient care vs. urgent care? And where should you go when your primary care doctor isn’t available?

Convenient Care and Urgent Care vs. the Emergency Room

Like the emergency room, urgent care and convenient care clinics are walk-in centers that you can visit when you aren’t able to see your regular doctor. But unlike the emergency room, wait times at urgent care and convenient care clinics tend to be short.

That makes them a more convenient alternative for minor illnesses or injuries that aren’t life threatening. (You should always go to the emergency room for life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack, stroke or poisoning.) While they share some similarities, convenient care and urgent care centers are equipped to help you in different ways.

Here’s what you’ll find at each.

Emergency Rooms

Go to the closest emergency room if your health is in serious danger. But ERs treat people based on how severe each patient’s health is, so if you go for non-life-threatening issues, you could wait longer for your care. An ER will also cost you the most, and you’ll wait longer for non-emergency care.

Where should you go for non-emergency care?

First see if your primary care provider’s office is open and ask if they can see you quickly. They know you – and your health history – and can direct you to specialists if you need it.

If they’re not available, try an urgent care clinic. They can treat many illnesses, like diarrhea and strep, and non-life-threatening injuries, like sprains and stitches, even late at night. Some even offer X-rays. And they’re often much faster than the ER. Some plans even cover virtual urgent care. Urgent care doesn’t replace your PCP, but it can help when you may not be able to get in to see them.

Convenient Care Clinics

Convenient care centers can treat minor illnesses such as ear infections, colds or coughs, the flu or flu-like symptoms, minor burns or rashes, and minor allergic reactions. They can also provide basic preventive care such as flu shots, sports physicals and blood pressure checks.

Who you’ll see: A nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant will usually treat you.

Where you’ll find them: Convenient care centers tend to be small and are often located inside retail pharmacies.

Urgent Care Clinics

Urgent care clinics are similar to convenient care centers in that they can treat minor illnesses. But they can also address more serious illnesses like bronchitis or respiratory infections. They may also be able to treat more severe injuries, such as fractures or cuts that requires stitches. Urgent care centers can also perform physicals, X-rays and some lab tests.

Who you’ll see: A physician will usually treat you.

Where you’ll find them: Urgent care clinics tend to be larger than convenient care centers, but smaller than emergency rooms. They often operate as stand-alone clinics.

Convenient Care vs. Urgent Care: Where Should I Go?

Whether you choose to go to a convenient care clinic or an urgent care clinic will depend on your illness or injury. If you or your child has something very mild, such as a cough or cold, ear infection or a small rash, head to a convenient care center. It’s a fast and low-cost way to get the treatment you need.

If you’re dealing with a more serious condition that isn’t life threatening, head to an urgent care clinic. You’ll receive the same standard of care as you would in an emergency room, but you’ll likely spend less time waiting and the cost will be lower. In both cases, it’s a good idea to make sure the care center is in your insurance network so you can avoid paying unnecessary out-of-pocket costs.

In short, both convenient care and urgent care clinics offer you fast, less inexpensive care when you aren’t able to see your primary care doctor. If you’re planning to go to either type of care center, call your doctor’s office first so the on-call doctor or nurse can advise you on the most appropriate course of action. That way, you’ll feel confident that the clinic you’ve chosen can provide you with the care you need.

Marygrace Taylor

Marygrace Taylor is is an award-winning health, wellness, and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in Glamour, Redbook, Prevention, and Women’s Health. You can follow her on Twitter @mgtylr, or at

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Filed under: Mind & Body


Marygrace Taylor is is an award-winning health, wellness, and nutrition writer whose work has appeared in Glamour, Redbook, Prevention, and Women’s Health. You can follow her on Twitter @mgtylr, or at


WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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