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Primary Care Practitioner, Walk-In Clinic or Emergency Department?


A Norwich Bulletin Healthy Living Column

When a sudden illness or injury strikes, it can be difficult to know where to seek medical care. Can you get an appointment with your primary care practitioner? Should you visit the emergency department or a walk-in clinic? Where can you be seen in a timely manner and get the most appropriate care for whichever medical problem you are experiencing? 

Each option involves a different level of care, convenience and cost. While the answer is not always simple, knowing the difference between these care settings can help you determine where to seek the right medical attention at the right time. 

Your primary care practitioner (PCP) is the best place to receive care for minor illnesses and injuries, as they are familiar with your health history. This continuity in care is important to your overall health – you never know when a minor ailment may progress into a greater illness. If your PCP offers same-day sick appointments, a set appointment time beats waiting to be seen at a walk-in or emergency department, and is the least costly option. 

This is why it’s important to have a PCP. Beyond annual physicals, your PCP is there to provide care when you’re sick and coordinate your care across the health system when needed. If you don’t have a PCP yet, establish one today - you’ll be glad you did when you need them.

If you’re experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain, high fever, sudden blurred vision, dizziness, weakness, or seizure call 9-1-1 immediately or use a hospital emergency department. When in doubt call an ambulance. You should not drive yourself to the emergency department if you’re experiencing these symptoms. 

Emergency departments are the most efficient for serious and life-threatening conditions. This is not the place to go for common illnesses or minor injuries; you will likely wait longer while more seriously ill people are cared for, and it is more costly. 

When you need medical attention fast, a walk-in clinic has you covered. A walk-in clinic offers high-quality, convenient medical care without the cost of a trip to the emergency department. You can expect a wide-range of services available for anything from sniffles to minor scrapes, to fractures.
No matter where you go for medical care, be prepared with a current listing of medications you’re taking, your insurance information, the name of your PCP, and photo identification.

Dr. Steven Wexler is a board certified emergency medicine doctor with the Townsend Emergency Medical Center at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam. For more resources in emergency medicine available at Day Kimball Hospital, visit


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