Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans visit the emergency room at least once per year, at a minimum, and half of these individuals go while experiencing non-urgent medical matters?
When a medical issue occurs, you typically have three options to seek care: telemedicine, urgent care, and emergency room. Choosing incorrectly can lead to expensive or even dangerous outcomes. In order to determine the best option, you must consider the severity of your medical issue, how quickly you need care, and the cost of receiving care.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has become more popular, providing increased access and affordability to patients. Telemedicine allows you to consult with physicians through video calls and is the only of the three options that is not in-person. You should choose this option for non-urgent health issues (i.e., rash, allergies, cold, flu, sore throat, small scrapes, and more).
Advantages: telemedicine services are less costly and wait times are typically much shorter than urgent care or emergency room visits. Since you don’t need to travel, you won’t need to take as much time off of work.
Disadvantages: telemedicine cannot help with issues requiring emergency care and cannot diagnose issues that need to be addressed in person. You will need to schedule an appointment to attend a telemedicine session.
Urgent care centers provide timely, in-person care for non-life-threatening issues (i.e., minor scrapes, illnesses, burns, infections, and more).
Advantages: there are over 7,000 urgent care centers in the U.S., which provides greater access to care. You do not need an appointment, so some people can find quicker care than waiting for a doctor’s appointment. Additionally, urgent cares are typically less costly and offer shorter wait times than emergency rooms. At an urgent care, you typically pay a set copay and potentially the cost of additional tests or treatments.
Disadvantages: urgent cares are not equipped to treat emergency issues, and depending on your insurance, you could pay more if you visit one that is considered out-of-network. As an in-person service, you will have to travel to your local urgent care, if you have one in proximity, to receive care.
Emergency rooms are equipped to treat severe or life-threatening issues (i.e., breathing difficulty, head, neck, or spinal injury, loss of consciousness, deep wounds, and more). Emergency rooms should be utilized if you are experiencing a true medical emergency.
Advantages: emergency rooms are open 24/7, and most local hospitals contain an emergency room, making this an accessible option. Emergency rooms can treat a wide variety of conditions.
Disadvantages: many emergency rooms are crowded and have long wait times (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland are all in the top 10 states with the longest emergency room waiting times). Emergency services are costly, and you will pay a larger copay than if you visit an urgent care or utilize telemedicine. Like urgent care centers, you should be mindful of your insurance and be sure you’re using an in-network hospital, if possible.
Choosing the correct care option can save you time, money, and even your life, so be sure to make educated decisions and locate in-network options before an issue occurs.