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Understanding the Differences Between Urgent Care, ER, and PCP

Urgent care, emergency room, primary care physician. To those outside of the medical world, those terms may seem interchangeable. However, each is unique, providing different services and offering different hours. Understanding the difference between the three can help ensure that you get the proper care you need in a timely manner.

Defining each term

Urgent care

Urgent care centers are almost a middle ground between a PCP and the ER. For those with minor injuries or ailments, such as sprains or sinus infections, urgent care centers are an opportunity to receive the services generally provided by a PCP without having to wait weeks for an appointment. For those with children in need of school physicals, most urgent care centers (like St. Elizabeth Urgent Care) can take care of those.


Your primary care physician (PCP) is your doctor that you generally see consistently, building both a relationship and a history with one another. The primary benefit of visiting a PCP is that you know who you’re going to be discussing your medical situation with every visit, unlike an urgent care center or emergency room. Although your PCP may be more difficult to get an immediate appointment with, they are better off treating chronic issues or writing prescriptions for things such as antidepressants.


The ER (emergency room) is just as the name describes it. Emergency rooms are generally only visited for potentially threatening situations. Car accidents, severe pains, or major blood loss are all possible reasons one would have to visit an emergency room.

Understanding and utilizing each of the three aforementioned services is important to receiving proper care. For reference, below is a list of some more common illnesses and injuries and which of the three you should visit for appropriate care:

Minor allergic reactions (slight itchiness, rash): primary care physician, urgent care

Major allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock): emergency room

Major broken bones: emergency room

Minor broken bones: urgent care

Cold or flu-like symptoms: urgent care, primary care physician

Immunizations: primary care physician

Sore throat, ear pain, minor sinus issues: primary care physician, urgent care

Vomiting or diarrhea: primary care physician, urgent care

School physicals: primary care physician, urgent care


For those in the Houston, TX are looking for convenient urgent care services, look no further than St. Elizabeth Urgent Care. We have one location in Dickinson, TX and another in Jersey Village, TX. Click here to learn more about each of our urgent care centers.