What to do and where to turn to find the treatment that fits your needs.
Ouch! That cut looks a little deep. What now? Do you rush to the emergency room or just wrap a bandage around it until your family doctor can fit you in?
One of the many benefits of having a health plan is that it expands your choices for care. Typically, your four options are to use a telehealth service, visit your doctor’s office, head to an urgent care center or go to the emergency room (ER). But where you should turn in case of an accident or illness may not be immediately obvious.
Weighing Your Options
A telehealth service sets up a real-time, round-the-clock consultation with a physician by phone or a face-to-face video conference conducted on a smartphone, tablet or computer. A telehealth physician or specialist can diagnose and treat many non-life-threatening medical issues, follow up on a chronic health problem and even send a prescription to your local pharmacy for pickup. In 2017, the University of California Davis Health System’s Telemedicine Program found that each virtual visit conducted saved about four hours in travel time and $156 in fees.
If you can see your family doctor, that’s a great option — although hours and availability may be limited. Urgent care centers are for non-life-threatening issues like a sore throat, a mild burn or small cuts. Many urgent care centers have extended hours — weekends, evenings and early mornings — but may not have 24/7 care. Also, if you have an HMO health plan, you may need to ensure the urgent care center is in-network and call your doctor’s office before seeking treatment. Emergency rooms are intended for just that: emergencies. They offer around-the-clock care but often have unpredictable wait times, and studies show that treatment costs are typically much higher — often more than 10 times higher — in an ER as compared to an urgent care center.
Taking Your First Steps
If possible, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with your primary care physician as they are likely most familiar with your family health history and can make personalized recommendations. They may be able to fit you in for a visit or pass important health information on to the provider you wish to see. If you can’t reach your doctor, an urgent care center can handle stitching cuts, binding sprains, settling upset stomachs, or fighting flu and fevers. Of course, don’t hesitate to call 911 or make a trip to the ER if you start to experience serious symptoms like sudden chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, deep wounds, broken bones or high fever.
It’s always best to have a plan of action before you need one. Understand your options and work with your primary care doctor or health plan administrator to develop a plan for after-hours or immediate care before you or your family ever need it. Also, make sure you have a health plan so that you can have every option available to you when you need it.
For more insight, check out Covered California’s easy-to-follow guide on how to use your health plan.