Primary Care vs. Urgent Care vs. The ER

By: Courtney Lewis

October 26, 2022

Sarah Herbert, APRN pictured wearing mask and checking masked male patient's vitals with a stethoscope

When seeking medical care, there are several different provider types and options from which to choose. For example, you may have asked yourself a common question: Should I go to my primary care provider, urgent care or the emergency room? Sarah Herbert, APRN with Renown Medical Group – South Carson, provides guidelines to help you easily make this decision.

When should you go to your Primary Care Provider? 

It’s best to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider if you need to be seen for regular check-ups, wellness visits, vaccinations, or for any of the symptoms or conditions listed below. 

  • Cold, cough, or flu
  • Ear infection
  • Minor allergic reactions or allergies
  • Minor burns, cuts or bites. 
  • Migraine 
  • Rash, skin condition or pink eye
  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Nausea or diarrhea 
  • Sleep issues/fatigue

If a primary care provider thinks you need to see a specialist, they will provide you with a referral. 

When should you go to the Urgent Care? 

Before you visit the urgent care, remember you can call your primary care provider’s office to see if they have same-day appointments. Urgent care is an excellent option if you have any symptoms or conditions listed above and your primary care provider is unavailable with more flexible hours, including availability in the evenings, on weekends and on holidays. In addition, there are ten urgent care locations across Reno, Sparks and surrounding areas at Renown Health, with virtual visit options.

When should you go to the Emergency Room (ER)? 

Making a visit to the ER should be reserved for severe symptoms and/or life-threatening conditions, including: 

  • Chest pain
  • Severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or numbness on one side
  • Slurred speech
  • Fainting/loss of consciousness
  • Continuous bleeding or major open wounds
  • Severe allergic reactions 
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Drug or alcohol overdose
  • Sharp pain in lower abdomen
  • Severe dehydration 
  • High fever that does not get better with medicine
  • Serious burns
  • Broken bones/dislocated joints
  • Head trauma


If you’re still unsure of where to go for appropriate medical care, it’s best to check with your primary care physician. And remember, for a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately!