Family Doctor? Urgent Care? ER? Where to Go and When.

by Lisa McPhee, Open Arms Content Writer | July 31, 2023

a person standing in the middle of a streetAs Canadians, we are fortunate to have access to a robust healthcare system that provides multiple options for seeking medical care. However, understanding when to visit your family doctor (or walk-in-clinic), urgent care clinic or the emergency room can be puzzling. In today’s blog post, we will explore the differences between these services and help you make an informed decision regarding your health.

Family Doctor/Walk-in-Clinic Visits

Your family doctor, also known as a primary care physician, should be your first point of contact for non-emergency health concerns. Here is when you should consider making an appointment to see them:

  • Routine Check-ups: Regular visits to your primary care physician are essential for preventative care and managing chronic conditions. Your family doctor can complete regular health assessments and complete thorough screenings.
  • Non-Emergency Illnesses: For common health issues such as mild allergies, colds, flu, minor infections and mild injuries, your family doctor is equipped to provide appropriate care.
  • Chronic Condition Management: If you have an ongoing health condition like diabetes or hypertension, your family doctor will be able to monitor and manage your condition appropriately.
  • Referrals and Consultations: Your primary care physician can arrange consultations or refer you to specialists if required.

Urgent Care Visits

Urgent care clinics fill the gap between family doctor visits and emergency room care. Consider a visit to urgent care in the following situations:

  • Minor Injuries: For sprains, cuts requiring stitches, suspected bones fractures or minor burns, urgent care can provide timely treatment.
  • After-Hours Care: If you suffer a medical illness or injury outside of regular business hours, urgent care often offers extended hours for service availability.
  • Limited Access to Family Physician: In cases where your family doctor may be unable to make an immediate appointment, urgent care can be used as an alternative.
  • Mild Illnesses: When you have flu symptoms, ear infections, fever or other non-life-threatening conditions that require prompt attention, urgent care is a suitable option.

Emergency Room Visits

Emergency rooms are designed to handle critical and life-threatening situations. Seek assistance in the ER for the following circumstances:

  • Severe Injuries: head injuries, deep wounds, severe burns, major accidents, or anything that may require immediate surgical intervention.
  • Chest Pain and Difficulty Breathing: Symptoms of a heart attack or severe respiratory distress demand emergency care.
  • Loss of Consciousness: If someone loses consciousness or experiences sudden disorientation or confusion, it’s a medical emergency.
  • Suspected Stroke: Symptoms like slurred speech, facial droop, sudden numbness/weakness, and confusion require urgent evaluation in the ER.
  • Uncontrolled Bleeding: In cases of profuse bleeding that will not stop, go to the ER immediately.

Being knowledgeable about when to visit your family doctor, urgent care clinic or the emergency room can make a significant impact in not only your health outcomes, but also the overall healthcare system’s efficiency. Your family doctor is the best starting point and offers personalized care and continuity. Urgent care clinics are suitable for after-hours, timely attention to minor injuries and illnesses. However, in life-threatening or severe medical emergencies, the emergency room is the only appropriate choice, regardless of the time of day! Your health should always be top priority and knowing where to go for the right level of care can ensure the best treatment when you need it most.

How can Open Arms Advocacy Help?

We advocate for a wide array of patient issues from emergency room care, senior care, women’s health, mental health, and acute care to medical fatalities. We help patients get a second opinion, find a physician, place a complaint, or access medical documents. Open Arms also helps families of patients with guidance, support, and resources to get the answers they require.

If you need a patient advocate, please contact us at or fill out our intake form.