"Dear Ask Alison,
Emergency care, urgent care, primary care, online doctor advice - there are so many options, and I never know where to go for the fastest and cheapest health care! When does one go to the emergency room vs. the urgent care? Urgent care vs. the primary doctor? Are those "ask a doctor online" sites legitimate as an alternative source when I can't get an appointment? Please help!"
~ Melissa W., - St. Peters
Emergency Room: The best option in a true emergency
Are you physically able to drive or walk to an Urgent Care? If not, call ambulance or get a ride to the ER
Expert Tip: In a true emergency, your health coverage will pay for an out-of-network ER. If not, you might be stuck with the bill.
Urgent Care: Sooner than the doctor and less costly than ER
Have a problem that can’t wait for the Dr, but but isn’t extremely severe or life-threatening? You’re likely to be seen sooner and pay less in an urgent care center.
Expert Tip: It’s a good idea to locate nearby urgent care centers in your plan’s network ahead of time so that you can act faster if and when a crisis arises.
Primary Care Physician: If it can wait, make an appointment
Is your problem really serious enough to take to urgent care? If not, you can save money by making an appointment with your primary care physician (PCP).
Expert Tip: See your PCP at least once a year for your annual checkup, even if you don’t have any obvious problems. These preventative wellness services are free under most insurance plans.
- Many insurance companies offer a phone line or e-medicine service that lets you instantly speak or video-chat with a doctor or nurse who can give you trustworthy advice.
- If that isn’t an option, you might try visiting a walk-in retail clinic, like those in many Walgreens stores.
- If you can’t get an appointment with your doctor, you can turn to online advice, but some sources are more reliable than others. Plenty of websites have good information, but we ordinary people don’t have the training to interpret our own symptoms correctly and match them up to an accurate diagnosis.
- “Ask a Doctor” sites and apps are becoming more prevalent, but remember that without a thorough medical history, you are not getting a complete diagnosis.
To learn more about Health Insurance, register for the Library's: Coverage to Care Series