What Is the Difference between Primary and Urgent Care?

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  • Written By: Rhonda Rivera
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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There are many differences between primary and urgent care, including operation hours, price, and the staff’s education. In general, primary care centers close earlier than urgent care ones. The price of urgent care is usually more expensive than primary care. Also, there are few urgent care specialties because of low demand. In addition, primary care centers usually require patients to make an appointment days or weeks before, unlike urgent care centers.

One difference between primary and urgent care is that urgent care often has later business hours than primary. In fact, urgent care is sometimes available on weekends and holidays, unlike primary care. Some primary care centers even turn into urgent care ones after hours, carrying a skeleton crew and one or two doctors instead of many. Many urgent care centers are not open 24/7, however, unlike emergency rooms at hospitals.

Another difference between primary and urgent care is that urgent care centers usually charge more than primary care. Even if the patient has insurance, his or her copay might be double or more than what he or she pays for primary care. This is because urgent care is a specialized service offered after business hours. In addition, some people go to urgent care instead of primary because they need to be seen right away. These advantages over primary care contribute to the slightly higher cost.


Primary care has specialty doctors like neurologists and dermatologists. These doctors know a lot about a specific area of the body, such as nerve or skin problems. Urgent care is typically run by general care practitioners or registered nurses who do not have a specialty — or at least, are not working with their specialty in mind — and instead know the basics of many diseases, disorders, and wounds.

A crucial difference between primary and urgent care is that urgent care centers allow walk-in appointments. This means a person can simply drop by an urgent care center without first calling or making an appointment via their website. Primary care centers generally require an appointment to see a doctor, but the wait is usually much shorter than urgent care waits. In urgent care centers, the staff attempt to see people on a first-come first-serve basis unless some patients obviously need care before others. Urgent care centers often operate in a similar fashion to emergency rooms, though they usually do not have all the equipment hospitals have available to them.


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