Depending on where you live, there may be several choices or just a couple. Here are some guidelines:

  • Emergency Room: If a medical condition is life- or limb-threatening, or involves severe wounds, go straight to the ER at the closest hospital. Examples include an injury to the head or neck, chest pain, difficulty breathing, sudden weakness, injuries from an accident, etc. You do not need prior approval before receiving treatment at an emergency room even if it’s outside your plan’s network.
  • Urgent Care: If the medical condition is not life-threatening, Urgent Care can be a less costly and much faster alternative to the ER. Urgent Care is designed to handle less serious medical conditions that still require immediate treatment. An Urgent Care clinic typically provides the kind of routine injury treatment and medical care that a primary care physician performs in the office.
  • Convenient Care: Convenient Care tackles the most minor of cases, such as ear infections, sore throats and some routine preventive care. A Convenient Care clinic is typically found inside another retail business such as a grocery store or pharmacy and is frequently staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants.
  • Telemedicine: Your health insurance plan or a provider organization may offer Telemedicine services. This involves using a mobile device such as a phone or tablet to connect with a medical provider for a virtual doctor visit that usually includes a video call. This can be a great option if you are in a more remote location or if a medical need comes up in the middle of the night. Minor infections, a cold, pinkeye, rashes and fever can be initially treated by Telemedicine. It may also require follow-up with your regular physician.

These services do not replace your primary care physician. They are for people who can’t get to their physician’s office during regular business hours or for an immediate medical need.

Check the benefits of your health insurance plan. An Emergency Room is always the most expensive place to be treated. An Urgent Care visit may be priced about the same as a doctor office visit. Convenient Care offers more limited services and is usually priced lower than an Urgent Care visit. Telemedicine services vary. Know before you need to go!

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