Deciding Between Visiting Primary Care, Urgent Care, or the Emergency Room

December 22, 2021

Where To Go To Get the Right Care at the Right Place

Winchester, MA – You may have heard that hospitals are busier than ever. You've just slipped in your driveway and think you may have sprained or broken your ankle. You need to see a doctor. But where? Should you go to the nearest emergency room, or to urgent care? Should you call your primary care physician?

"When you or a loved one experience an unforeseen medical issue, it can be overwhelming to determine the appropriate care and can be difficult to know who to call or where to go, and if you should visit the emergency room," said Rick Weiner, MD, president of Winchester Hospital. "For non-urgent or non-life-threatening symptoms, visiting your primary care physician or going to an urgent care center may be a better option.";

When To Contact Your Primary Care Physician

Primary care physicians know their patients and their patients' medical history best. They can diagnose and treat non-urgent conditions such as minor infections, headaches, muscle pains, minor scrapes and bruises. For some conditions, telehealth may also be an option, allowing the patient to have an appointment with their provider in the comfort of their own home.

"Primary care providers can help manage a patient's chronic conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes," Andrew Escoll, MD, chair of Family Medicine of Winchester Hospital. "We encourage everyone to remain engaged with their primary care doctors. They can connect their patients with resources and help develop a plan of care for non-urgent conditions."

Examples of care available through primary care:

  • Cold, flu and sore throat
  • Ear, sinus or urinary tract infection
  • Headaches and muscle pains
  • Stomach pains, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation
  • Minor scrapes or bruises
  • Managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure

To find a Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) primary care physician near you, please visit the BILH Find a Doctor page.

When To Go to the Urgent Care Center

For non-emergent injuries that are beyond the scope of primary care but don't rise to the level of emergency care, urgent care centers are also an option. Urgent care centers can perform a multitude of tests – with some locations offering X-rays and lab services, and some centers offering IV fluids for dehydration or IV antibiotics for an infection. Additionally, visiting an urgent care center can save you time and money.

"For appropriate medical conditions, we encourage our patients to utilize urgent care for a non-life-threatening emergency," said Teri Ciccone, MD, urgent care medical director of Winchester Hospital. "By utilizing the urgent care centers, patients can get the care they need, when they need it instead of potentially waiting in an emergency room for several hours."

Examples of care available through urgent care:

  • Sprains
  • Minor animal bites or stings
  • Minor cuts or burns
  • Dehydration
  • Pink eye
  • Rashes or other skin issues
  • Primary care concerns (if unable to see primary care provider)

Beth Israel Lahey Health (BILH) operates Winchester Hospital Urgent Care Centers in Wilmington and Woburn. Staffed with board-certified emergency physicians and on-site X-ray and laboratory services, they are open seven days a week and treat adults and children over the age of two.

Winchester Hospital Urgent Care Center, Wilmington is conveniently located at 500 Salem Street, Family Medical Center, Wilmington. Free parking is available. Open daily, 7:30 am to 8:00 pm and appointments are first-come-first serve, walk-in only. Call 978-988-6000 for more information.

Winchester Hospital Urgent Care Center, Woburn is conveniently located at 7 Alfred Street, Baldwin Park II, Woburn. Free parking is available. Open daily, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and appointments are first-come-first serve, walk-in only. Call 781-756-7800 for more information.

For additional information and a full list of Beth Israel Lahey Health-affiliated urgent care centers, please visit the BILH Urgent Care page and choose a location that is convenient for you.

When To Go to the Emergency Department at the Hospital

For managing chronic illnesses or cold and flu symptoms, start with a call to your primary care physician's office. For that sprained or broken ankle, rash, and other mild-to-moderate symptoms, going to urgent care can save you time and money. Patients needing more complex emergency care should call 911 or seek care at the closest the emergency department.

Examples of care available through the emergency department:

  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Serious burns, cuts, or lacerations
  • Broken bones or dislocated joints
  • Fainting, changes in mental state, or slurred speech
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Weakness and/or numbness in one side
  • You should also visit the emergency department if another provider instructs you to do so, or if it's your only option at the current time and location

About Winchester Hospital

Winchester Hospital is a 229-bed facility and leading provider of comprehensive health care services in northwest suburban Boston offering a broad range of surgical specialties, including general, bariatric, urologic, thoracic, otolaryngology (ENT), vascular, and orthopedic surgery. They also deliver care in other areas, including pediatrics, cardiology, pulmonary medicine, oncology, gastroenterology, rehabilitation, radiation oncology, pain management, obstetrics/gynecology and a Level IIB Special Care Nursery.

Winchester Hospital is part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,700 physicians and 39,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.

Media Relations Manager

Kristina Murray

Please note: The contact information above is for journalists and news media only. For patient care and all other inquiries, please contact your doctor or Winchester Hospital directly.