The last thing we want to think about in the midst of a medical emergency is how to choose affordable care. And yet, for so many individuals and families, an emergency room or urgent care visit simply is simply not in the budget. A recent poll suggests that 54% of American adults delayed medical care for themselves due to cost alone.
We spoke with our friends and Sedera Employer Group Remedy urgent care, and emergency room physician and Sedera Member Dr. Brian Ostick, to learn about how we can be prepared to make smart decisions for our health and wealth, even in stressful moments.
First, what is the difference between an emergency room and urgent care clinic?
These two provider types are not the same, despite what we may think. Dr. Ostick offered clarifying definitions:
“Urgent cares are equipped to take care of simple and non-life-threatening issues. Orthopedic injuries and simple lacerations are easily handled in an urgent care setting. More life-threatening complaints like abdominal pain and chest pain, stroke symptoms, and major trauma should be handled in the emergent department.”
Remedy adds that one big difference between urgent care and emergency care is their equipment. For example, urgent care facilities may not have more advanced imaging equipment. If you believe that you need a more complex test to diagnose your health concern, an emergency room may be the right place to go.
Urgent care facilities are perfect for medical events that need immediate attention but are not life-threatening, like a severe sore throat or a sprained ankle. Alternatively, if you need urgent care that is not an emergency and does not require onsite attention, most Direct Primary Care and telemedicine providers have options for 24-hour care.
How do I know where to go?
As Remedy mentioned, you may have a suspicion that your condition requires more advanced care, equipment, or testing. In this case, an emergency room is likely the best fit. If you have a high fever that won’t go down, or as Brian said, “simple lacerations,” among other non-life-threatening concerns, then urgent care may be the better option.
But, what if you just aren’t sure? What if you don’t know if your symptoms require medical intervention at all? This is a time when telemedicine is a perfect place to turn. “Get on the phone with someone first, get on the phone with telemedicine, they can assess your symptoms over the phone,” our friends at Remedy suggests. Having a provider you have built a relationship with and who knows you and your family’s medical history and needs is a valuable investment in your health.
Services like Remedy will do their best to help you determine what the next step for care is over the phone. In the case of Remedy, this may mean they will come to you, have you visit their clinic, refer you to an emergency room, or advise you on the next steps for recovering on your own.
How can I be financially savvy when seeking urgent or emergency care?
Remedy recommends doing research in preparation for an urgent medical event. Google urgent care clinics and emergency rooms to find locations in your area. Many will have cash pay prices posted on their website, or you may call and ask for cash pay pricing, often discounted off of insurance pricing. Then, save what you learn in a note on your phone so when you are in a stressful moment, you know you have that information at the ready.
Dr. Ostick reiterates this saying, “Ask the urgent care or emergency department what the visit will cost upfront. Know what you are getting and what you are paying for.”
A little preparation can go a long way to help you make smart choices for your health and wealth. Along with saving your go-to providers in an easily-accessible place, here is a PDF we recommend you have at the ready for reference when to seek emergency care vs. urgent care.