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Jefferson Health

Home of Sidney Kimmel Medical College

What Your Primary Care Physician Can Tell You That an Urgent Care
Doctor Can’t

When it comes to health, choose the long game.

When weighing the convenience of an urgent care center and the trust and history of your primary care physician (PCP), it’s important to take any chronic conditions, lingering symptoms, and your long-term health into consideration.

We recently spoke with Dr. Vishal Phakey, a family medicine physician with Jefferson Health – New Jersey with past experience in urgent care. Here’s what he had to say about the difference between primary care and urgent care, as well as the importance of maintaining a relationship with your PCP.

Are there different types of training for family doctors and urgent care providers?

The training is mostly the same; however, most PCPs will specialize in internal medicine or family medicine, whereas at an urgent care center you may see an emergency medicine doctor too. Physicians in each specialty are board-certified and provide highly competent care.

Dr. Vishal Phakey

Dr. Vishal Phakey

Are there differences in care and the conditions that can be treated?

Urgent care centers tend to be better places to go for acute conditions, such as cuts that require sutures or falls that you suspect have caused a sprain or fracture. These facilities often have x-ray capabilities and equipment like temporary casts and crutches to send people home with.

PCPs focus more on preventive medicine and treating a chronic condition, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. With annual wellness visits, they’re able to track every aspect of your health and take an active role in ongoing preventive techniques, such as ordering mammograms and colonoscopies.

Regardless, if you come to either office with a specific concern, you can trust that you will be treated to the best ability of the provider.

How important is it to visit your PCP regularly and have a strong long-standing relationship with them?

Your PCP is your baseline doctor for all your other medical care. Keeping a strong relationship with them is integral, as they need to stay up-to-date on your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your personal health history, your family history, and much more.

Being open and honest with your PCP allows them to appropriately provide individualized, comprehensive, and holistic care. Clinically, it makes the diagnosis of certain conditions much easier, and their subsequent treatment methods much quicker.

Why can’t an urgent care physician replace a PCP?  

Urgent care physicians don’t cover routine vaccines or the other essential preventive health measures discussed above. They are also unable to refill prescription medications. In many cases, urgent care physicians will refer you back to your primary care doctor; if you don’t have one, you’ll need to find one.

Remember, urgent care is meant for timely attention to something that isn’t life-threatening (if it is life-threatening, you should call 9-1-1 and go to your local Emergency Department). If you have questions about your regular chronic conditions, you should schedule an appointment with your PCP.

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Healthy You