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There are so many options for healthcare these days that it can be hard to know where to go when you need care.
What is the difference between urgent care and primary care doctors? How do you know when you should head to the emergency room? And where do the rapidly-growing fields of telehealth and retail clinics come in?
Let’s discuss the differences, pros and cons, and typical pricing between primary care doctors, urgent care doctors, the emergency room, retail clinics, and telehealth.
Primary care doctors keep an eye on your overall health. They can help monitor changes in your health, track the progress of chronic (long-term) diseases, prescribe medications, give vaccinations, and more.
Most of the time, you will want to see your primary care doctor for any health issues you have. They will have your entire medical record available and will be able to assess your health as a whole rather than trying to fix one current issue without being able to see the entire picture.
When to Go to Your Primary Doctor?
Some of the issues you should visit a primary care doctor for include:
A typical visit to your primary care physician is your normal copay. Preventive care may be offered with no copay. Other testing may have additional costs. Without insurance, out of pocket costs may range from $50-$150.
Who you’ll see
Medical doctors and physician’s assistants staff primary care doctor’s offices.
Urgent care doctors are the best place to go if you have an illness or injury and can’t get in to see your primary care doctor. As long as your illness or injury isn’t severe or life-threatening, urgent care clinics can usually help you without an appointment.
Urgent care clinics are just the right place for issues that are too urgent to wait for an appointment with your primary care doctor but aren’t severe enough to require the emergency room. Examples of issues you can go to urgent care with include:
Visits to an urgent care clinic usually cost more than a trip to a primary care doctor but significantly less than the emergency room. Insurance plans often have a higher copay for urgent care than for a primary care doctor. Without insurance, a trip to an urgent care clinic may cost $119-$330 or more.
consult board-certified doctors face-to-face online for as little as $99 per year
While urgent care clinics may have doctors on staff, you will usually see a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner.
As the name implies, emergency rooms are for emergencies. If you suffer a severe or life-threatening illness or injury, you should head to the emergency room. This includes problems that happen in the middle of the night and can’t wait for an urgent care clinic to open.
If there is any chance your condition might require hospitalization, the emergency room is the best place to go since you can be immediately admitted to the hospital.
Chances are, you already know when a condition is severe enough to go to the emergency room. A 2017 study showed that the rate of unnecessary ER visits might be as low as 3.3%, which means that few people go to the emergency room who could get treated elsewhere. Conditions that should be seen in the emergency room include:
The emergency room is by far the most expensive option, even with health insurance. Copays may be $200 or more and may not cover everything. Without health insurance, expect to spend several hundred to several thousand dollars for a trip to the emergency room.
Who you’ll see
Medical doctors and nurses with experience treating severe trauma work in emergency departments.
Large retail and pharmacy chains are starting to offer small clinics inside the stores. These clinics allow you to take care of minor health issues in a convenient setting while you run your typical errands. They tend to be cheaper than urgent care clinics, but they also offer fewer services.
Minor conditions like the following can be treated at retail clinics:
Retail clinics are often the cheapest healthcare option and may have low or no copays. For those without insurance, prices are usually posted and easy to see and may range from $45-$129.
Who you’ll see
Nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants usually work at retail clinics.
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