Office Visits, Telehealth, Urgent Care, or ER?

Your health is the most valuable asset you have and it’s important to take care of it. However, we all need different levels of care at different times. It can be confusing to know when you should visit your primary care doctor or urgent care clinic, and when it’s time to go to an emergency room (ER). Knowing the differences between the three can help you get the right care at the right time, while helping you manage costs.

Office visits with a Primary Care Provider (PCP)

It’s best to make an in-person appointment with your primary care physician (PCP) when you’re due for your annual check-up or preventive wellness visit, when you need to update a prescription or have a non-urgent medical inquiry.

Your PCP manages your general care and knows your health history and is meant to be your

healthcare guide, advocate, and educator.

Telehealth visits

Telehealth visits have become increasingly popular due to their convenience; you can get quality care and medical advice from the comfort of your own home. Telehealth visits are ideal for times when you’ve had a stuffy nose or scratchy throat that doesn’t quite limit you from your daily activities but hasn’t gone away after several days.

Telehealth visits with a doctor are generally less expensive than an in-person visit. For example, the average cost for a telehealth visit for a sinus infection or bronchitis was $79, compared to $146 for an in-person visit.[1]

Urgent care / Walk-in clinic

There may be times when you need to see a doctor, but you can’t get an appointment with your primary care doctor for a few weeks. Enter urgent care. Urgent care centers are a good choice when you have an immediate health need that doesn’t require emergency care. For example, if you:

    • Have a mild or moderate fever that isn’t breaking
    • Are experiencing nausea or vomiting
    • Have strained a muscle or have a simple bone break.

 

Urgent care clinics provide many services, tests and treatments that a primary care physician’s office offers. They also tend to have longer hours and openings on evenings and weekends. However, this convenience tends to come with a higher price tag than your doctor’s office.

The average cost for an urgent care visit may range between $100 to $150 depending on your copay or clinic costs. This doesn’t include the use of medical equipment for diagnosis and treatment and prescription medications, which may increase your overall visit bill.

Emergency care costs

Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and offer skilled staff and technology to treat severe, acute or chronic illnesses or injuries. Emergency rooms also have advanced capabilities to test for and treat more complex health issues.

However, ER treatment costs are much higher than urgent care or PCP office visits. For example, the cost to treat a sinus infection at an ER can cost just over $600. At an urgent care clinic, that same treatment may cost just over $100—a difference of $500.

When should I go to the ER?

Seeking emergency room treatment should be limited to life-threatening injuries or symptoms only. Your health is important, so you should go to the ER or call 911 if you have any of the following symptoms:

    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
    • Stroke symptoms (face drooping, arm weakness, and/or slurred speech)
    • Serious burns or cuts
    • Broken bones
    • Seizures
    • If you’re pregnant and have pelvic/abdominal pain or bleeding

 

Get the care you need, when you need it

It’s important to know your options for getting the medical care you need, when you need it. Remember, for non-emergency needs, your PCP should be your first choice. If you need immediate, but non-emergency care for things like lingering cough or colds or even sprains, an urgent care is a good option. If you’re having trouble breathing, have chest pain or have a serious cut or break, it’s time for a trip to the ER. Knowing your options will ensure you get the proper care at the right time, so you can feel better fast, and not break the bank.

To learn more about where to go for care as a CGHC member, go to https://commongroundhealthcare.org/where-to-go-for-care/

 

Resources:

https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4231-should-you-go-to-the-emergency-room-or-urgent-care

https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/when-to-go-to-the-emergency-room-vs-an-urgent-care-clinic

https://www.aetna.com/health-guide/medical-emergency-go-er-urgent-care.html

https://www.gohealthuc.com/library/ucvser

https://www.talktomira.com/post/should-i-go-to-urgent-care-or-my-doctor

https://sidecarhealth.com/blog/how-much-does-urgent-care-cost/

https://www.debt.org/medical/emergency-room-urgent-care-costs/

http://secondscount.org/heart-condition-centers/info-detail-2/act-fast-to-identify-stroke-in-progress

https://www.ehealthinsurance.com/resources/individual-and-family/how-much-does-an-urgent-care-visit-cost

 

[1] https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1130

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