Where to Get Medical Care
If you have a deep cut, need minor surgery, or have the flu, where do you go for care?
Traditionally, you'd go to the local emergency department, be admitted to the hospital, or make an appointment at your healthcare provider's office. Now you have more choices.
Where you are treated makes a difference in terms of convenience and the cost of care.
Keep in mind, if you have a true emergency, like signs of a heart attack or stroke, or a serious cut or injury, don't hesitate to go to the emergency room. That's what it's there for. But when an injury or illness is less serious, take some time to review your choices. Often, a medical self-care guide can help you make a decision.
Here are some of the newer treatment facilities:
Urgent-care centers provide medical care for conditions that aren't an immediate, serious threat to life or health. They are not intended to provide emergency care. In many cases, they are like a walk-in healthcare provider's office.
The biggest difference between an urgent-care facility and a healthcare provider's office is that you can walk in without an appointment. Also, at an urgent-care center, you probably won't see the same healthcare provider from visit to visit.
Many people use these clinics as their primary healthcare providers. Others use them only for walk-in treatment for illnesses or injuries.
Advantages. Many urgent-care centers charge about the same as or a little more than a healthcare provider's office. Yet they may be only half the cost of the hospital emergency department. And the waiting time is far less. Many offer convenient on-site lab testing and X-rays. Some also fill prescriptions. You won't have to wait while patients with more serious illnesses or injuries are being treated like in emergency rooms. The centers stay open later than most healthcare providers' offices. Some are open nearly every day of the year. If you need more care than they can provide, they’ll get you to an emergency department quickly.
Disadvantages. If you’re not a regular patient at the urgent-care center, your records won’t be on file. The staff won’t be as familiar with your medical history as your primary care provider. Walk-ins often have a longer wait than a scheduled appointment at their own healthcare providers' offices. Some urgent-care centers don’t accept health insurance from certain insurance companies, so be sure to check before you're treated. If you have a true emergency, going to an urgent-care center that cannot take care of you only delays your care.
Ambulatory surgery centers
If surgery is in your future, ask your healthcare provider if outpatient (ambulatory) surgery is an option. Improved technology, pain control, and less-invasive procedures allow many surgeries to be done in a healthcare provider’s office, outpatient clinic, or ambulatory surgery center. Some of the procedures include hernia repair, cosmetic surgery, gallbladder removal, and tonsil removal.
Advantages. You avoid a hospital stay and get to recover in the comfort and privacy of your own home. You receive high-quality care at far less cost than at a hospital. Operations are more likely to be on schedule. Complications are rare. If they do occur, the ambulatory surgery center has a backup plan for transferring patients to a hospital.
Disadvantages. Not all patients or procedures can be done as outpatient surgery.
Retail store sites
These are small medical offices within some large retail pharmacies. The healthcare providers are usually nurse practitioners (NP) or physician assistants (PA).
Advantages. Because the office is located in a store setting, you can shop for medicines or other items while you wait. Prices are usually clearly posted. This way you know upfront what any charges will be.
Disadvantages. These sites do not have healthcare providers and only limited equipment. Because the offices are within pharmacies, the only treatment available may be medicines, even when there are other choices.
Making a decision
Serious, life-threatening injuries or conditions are medical emergencies and should be treated in a hospital emergency department. For less urgent problems, be sure to check with your insurance plan to find out if the above facilities are covered.