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With so many health care choices available, picking where to go when you need care fast can be hard. Learning more about your options can help you choose the right care at the right time and help save you money. That’s why it’s worth taking a few minutes ahead of time to review your options before you need medical care.
Your Doctor – If it’s an issue that can wait, see your Primary Care Physician (PCP). Many doctor’s offices can make room for quick appointments for existing patients. Also, this ensures you see someone who knows your medical history, which can save you money.
Dr. Tania Elliott, chief medical officer at EHE, a health care management company based in New York City, says, “When one health care professional doesn't have insight into care you may have previously received, it can lead to an incorrect diagnosis or over-diagnosis and very high costs.”1
Pharmacy/Retail Walk-in Clinics – A walk-in clinic at your nearest pharmacy might be an option for a vaccination or if you suspect a common problem. And if you need a prescription filled, they can do it quickly for you right there.
Urgent Care Centers – For more serious problems, but something that doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency, an urgent care center may be your best bet. A cut that requires stitches, you’re not sure if you’ve sprained or broken your ankle, you’re worried about what might be an infection – these may be good reasons to choose Urgent Care.
Tip - Some walk-in clinics and urgent care centers have apps or websites that allow you to see current wait times for an appointment or even check-in online to reserve your spot. This can save you time and a drive to a place that’s already full.
Emergency Room – Matthew Burke, an urgent care physician in Washington, D.C., says, “If you have a very serious injury of illness – that’s when the emergency room has great value.”2 Heavy bleeding or open wounds, burns, head injuries, chest pains, or high fevers are reasons to head straight to the ER.
Tip – Check your plan’s ER coverage carefully. For example, some health insurance plans cover illness visits to the ER only if you’re admitted to the hospital for that illness. On the other hand, that same plan might fully cover that illness visit if you go to a walk-in clinic or urgent care facility.
Whether it’s through your own provider or with an online-only medical service, you may want to choose a telehealth or telemedicine option for some minor issues. Telehealth is especially useful in rural areas without other options nearby. However, experts like John Shen, M.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, warn to “never rely on an online service during a medical emergency.”3
Waiting until you need care to decide where to go probably won’t lead to the best decisions about where to get treatment. Ryan Stanton, M.D., a spokesperson for American College of Emergency Physicians and an ER doctor in Lexington, Kentucky, suggests you plan ahead so you know where to go when the time comes. “Every family should know the facilities in their area and when to go to one versus the other.”4
Planning ahead should include not just what facility to go to for different types of injury or illness, but also knowing which options accept your current insurance.
1 Howley, Elaine K. “Emergency Room, Urgent Care or Primary Care Physician?” 2/7/2018. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/2018-02-07/emergency-room-urgent-care-or-primary-care-physician
2 Purcell, Mary. “How to Choose Between the ER and an Urgent Care Center.” 9/8/2017. Retrieved from https://www.rallyhealth.com/health/choose-er-urgent-care-center
3 Calderone, Julia. “Telehealth: Should You Try an Online Doctor?” 5/4/2018. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/doctors/telehealth-should-you-try-an-online-doctor/
4 Findlay, Steven. “When You Should Go to an Urgent Care or Walk-in Health Clinic.” 5/4/2018. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/health-clinics/urgent-care-or-walk-in-health-clinic/