Today, your options for where to get medical care are greater than ever before. You may not even have to leave your home to get the care you want and need. You can choose based on what your health problem is and what works best for you and you don’t have to use one option for all of your health care needs.
Urgent Care Centers
Urgent Care Centers are usually able to provide care for problems like sprains, burns, broken bones, cold/flu symptoms, minor infections such as UTIs, and nausea/vomiting. They also can provide X-ray tests, throat cultures, and diagnose respiratory illnesses. You may be able to just walk in to see someone, or you may be able to set up an appointment. Urgent Care Centers have extended hours, shorter wait times, and a lower copayment.
Virtual care, also known as telehealth, is delivered through your smartphone, computer, or table. In most states, you can talk with a licensed provider through a video call. It can be a convenient way to get the care you need without leaving the comfort of your home. Telehealth programs are generally able to provide care for less serious problems such as allergies/coughing, earache, pinkeye, cold/flu symptoms, and sore throats. In most cases, virtual care services are available 24/7, have minimal wait times to be connected to a provider, and have a lower copayment.
When you have a serious problem that needs care right away, and emergency room (ER) is the best place to go. ERs are set up to handle problems that may be life-threatening and their staff are skilled at providing care than can save lives. Emergencies include problems such as heart attack, stroke symptoms, severe bleeding, major trauma, severe abdominal pain, numbness in limbs, and severe shortness of breath. ERs are open 24/7 but usually have long wait times, as well as a significantly higher copayment.
Primary Care Physician
Your primary care physician (PCP) has the advantage of knowing your health and medicine history. He or she may know about your health habits, such as diet and exercise. Your doctor often knows your home, work, and family situation. Most PCP offices can provide same-day sick appointments for when you need to be seen for things other than routine or follow-up care.
Your decision matters!
If you don’t think you need emergency care, you can consider what is most important to you on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, convenience and speed might drive your decision. In other cases, the cost of care matters most. And in some cases, you may believe it’s better to see a health professional who knows you and your history.
Henry Gunter, MD, is a physician at Capital Health Plan’s Urgent Care Center.