What’s in a name? Emergency, urgent and primary care | Guest column

by Tom Eversole

Special to the Sounder

We are truly grateful for the primary care providers and emergency service workers who offer medical care after hours when contacted. The terms we use for these services may contribute to the difference of opinions about whether or not those services exist or are adequate — especially if the two existing primary care practices were to close. Recognizing the differences between emergency and urgent care can be confusing, because both terms imply a medical need that must be addressed quickly.

Emergency care, in general, is for a condition that can permanently impair or endanger your life.

Emergency care is available any time, day or night. On an island with no emergency room (ER), EMS/911 provides this initial emergency response and stabilizes you prior to arranging transport to an ER. ERs provide a higher level of diagnostic services and physician and nursing care to diagnose, treat, and provide long-term care of your medical condition. The ERs in NW Washington hospitals are equipped/staffed for complex or critical needs, including life-and-limb-threatening situations ranging from heart attack and stroke to severe traumatic injuries. For medical emergencies, calling 911 for an ambulance is always the right decision.

Urgent Care is for conditions that are not considered emergencies, but still require care right now (within 24 hours).

Urgent care is not emergency care. If your sudden illness or injury is something you would normally feel comfortable addressing with your primary care doctor, then an urgent care setting is probably more appropriate than the emergency room. Urgent care (day or night) helps fill a gap when you become sick or injured, but your regular doctor is not available, and you can’t wait for an appointment.

Primary Care is routine health care provided by doctors and other providers as first contact and continuing health care for non-emergency or non-urgent conditions.

A primary care practice serves as the patient’s first point of entry into the healthcare system and coordinates other necessary health care services. Primary care practices provide patients with ready access to their own primary care provider or to an established backup provider when their own PCP is not available. Primary care practices provide ongoing health promotion, disease prevention, health maintenance, counseling, patient education, diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic illnesses in a variety of healthcare settings.

Having a shared language and understanding about types of health care delivery could help move our community dialogue forward. What we as patients and voters also need, however, is to hear information from our primary care and emergency service providers about their ability to continue existing services without a public hospital district.





Tom Eversole is a member of the Coalition for Orcas Health Care.