The basic levels of medical care
Valley Medical Center and its clinic network offer four levels of medical care to our community: primary, urgent, specialty and emergency. As the level of care rises, generally so do costs and wait times.
- If your care is not urgent, make an appointment with a primary care provider.
- If it can’t wait but it’s not severe or life-threatening, walk in or visit our urgent care wait times page and get a same day or evening appointment online.
- Specialty care is for a condition or illness that requires more in-depth care. Services are provided by appointment and often by referral from a primary care provider.
- Emergency department services are unplanned and for the most serious or life-threatening care needed.
If you’re not sure or would like more details about choosing the right level of care for the situation, see our Know Where to Go flyer for tips and guidance to help you decide.
Primary care: Your key to prevention, wellness, treating common illnesses, and managing chronic conditions
Valley operates a network of neighborhood primary care clinics throughout South King County. Primary care providers work with you to monitor, manage and improve your health through all life’s stages, while coordinating care with specialty physicians as needed. Primary care is the most cost-effective kind of care. Telehealth appointments are available.
Primary care providers can be board certified in a variety of areas:
- Family medicine practitioners provide ongoing and wide-ranging healthcare for everyone in the family: babies, toddlers, teens, adults and the older adults.
- Family medicine practitioners with obstetrics have additional training to care for pregnant women.
- Internal medicine specialists provide primary care to adults.
- Pediatricians care for children and focus on preventive health.
- Gerontologists are internal medicine providers who specialize in geriatrics, focusing on the care of older patients.
Primary care is the kind of care you plan for, making an appointment a few days or weeks ahead of time. If something more urgent comes up, you can always call and check if your provider can see you same-day or the next. Find a primary care clinic or provider.
Valley is nationally recognized as a Patient-Centered Medical Home by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), raising the bar for high-quality primary care by focusing on access to care, health information technology and coordinated care for patients.
If you don’t have health insurance, how do you get primary care? Get help signing up!
Through a phone call, Community Health Access Program, CHAP, helps enroll King County into low- or no-cost health insurance based on income. Once enrolled, you can receive care from Valley’s primary and specialty care clinics. Call CHAP at 1.800.756.5437. Interpreters and TTY available.
No insurance and you need primary or urgent care right away?
HealthPoint offers 19 clinics throughout King County providing a variety of care, from medical to dental, naturopathic, substance abuse treatment and even acupuncture. Telehealth is available. Walk-in urgent care is offered in Kent. Patients may qualify for a reduced fee program.
SeaMar Community Health Centers offer a wide range of health services, including primary care, dental and behavioral health, at low or no-cost, based on household income. While they specialize in care to the Latino community, all people are welcome.
Public Health—Seattle & King County has free primary care, and more for adults and children throughout South King County, from Eastgate Public Health in Bellevue to Renton, Burien, Kent and Auburn. Check specific locations for services offered. All are open on weekdays. They will help you enroll for low- or no-cost insurance as well.
Can’t wait, but it’s not life-threatening? Urgent care is the best choice
Urgent care is a great choice when you can’t wait for an appointment with your primary care provider or when you need medical care after hours for non-life threatening conditions. No appointment necessary—just walk right in, hop in line remotely or log in through your Valley MyChart account for a virtual visit. Wait times are typically shorter and co-pays and out-of-pocket costs are usually lower than an Emergency Department visit.
Urgent care provides care for acute illness, minor injuries, flu shots, sports physical exams, pregnancy tests, back strain, UTI, x-rays and other services that are not life-threatening. See Valley urgent care locations and wait times.
Emergency care is for severe or life-threatening illness or injury—and because it uses many resources, it’s the most expensive
Valley’s Emergency Department is a Level III Trauma Center and one of the busiest in Washington state. Patients are treated by the level of their injury or illness, not on a first-come, first-served basis. The triage nurse determines who should be seen in what order. Patients with the most serious conditions or injuries are seen right away—a person experiencing a heart attack, for example. Non-urgent patients may be directed to Flex Care where our goal is to get you in and out as quickly as possible.
Valley’s ED may not appear busy to those waiting in the lobby, but there is a separate entrance for patients who arrive by ambulance. So, while you are waiting in the lobby, new and often critical patients may be arriving through another entrance. Wait times may be long and frustrating—your understanding is appreciated.
A hospital bill for emergency services will include a charge for the emergency visit, which depends on the complexity of treatment. Additional charges for medications, tests, and any special procedures may also appear on the bill. Expect to receive a separate bill if services were received from an independent medical provider, such as an emergency physician or radiologist (for x-rays or other imaging services).
Emergency care is available to everyone regardless of ability to pay. However, the Emergency Department should never be a substitute for a personal physician or primary care provider. Having a primary care provider who helps manage your wellness can keep you healthier and keep you on track with chronic conditions to keep you out of the ED, and help keep the ED available as a community resource for those truly experiencing life-threatening emergencies.