When you get sick enough you need medical care, there are a few different scenarios that can play out:
- You go see a doctor. It’s great to see a doctor in person, but you may have to wait for an appointment, or may get stuck in a waiting room. Lastly, you may only get a visit that lasts a few minutes, with a quick prescription. $$
- You go to the emergency room. If it’s after hours, or if you don’t have an established primary care doctor, you may think the ER is the right place to go. You might even feel the need to call an ambulance. You might be waiting for hours before getting care. $$$
- You use telemedicine. You stay home and call or videochat a doctor, who diagnoses the problem and sends a prescription to your nearest pharmacy, or to an online pharmacy that ships the medicine to your house. $
Every year in the United States, there are more than a billion ambulatory care visits and more than 130 million ER visits. Estimates vary, but telemedicine may be able to replace 30-50% of these visits.
A RAND Corporation study showed that for episodes of acute respiratory infection, the cost of telehealth services was less than 5 percent the cost of a visit to an emergency department. Telehealth costs were about 50 percent lower than a physician office visit.
Why Use Telemedicine Over ER?
The biggest reason is cost. With the rise in higher deductible health plans, you may be stuck with $1000s in out-of-pocket medical costs if you take an ambulance ride or walk into the ER. Research shows that a telemedicine visit costs less than 5 percent the cost of a visit to an emergency department.
Even if you only are hit with a copay or coinsurance, high, unnecessary costs still matter. Unnecessary ER visits are an important factor in rising premium rates.
Perhaps equally important is that telemedicine allows you to stay home. Rest can be an important step in recovery. Leaving the house for hours is not just miserable; it might influence your condition.
Why Use Telemedicine Instead of Going to a Doctor’s Office?
Research suggests the cost of telehealth services are about 50 percent lower than a physician office visit. And again, staying home is supremely more convenient when you’re sick.
Where to Get Care
Okay, but how do I know where to go when something happens? That’s a great questions. If you’re ever unsure, go to the emergency room, as emergency departments are built to handle anything coming through the door.
But knowing beforehand what types of care can be handled by telemedicine can save you a lot of money.
If you’re experiencing chest pain, life-threatening allergic reactions, pregnancy complications, choking, eye damage or losing consciousness, or bleeding seriously, call 911 or go to the ER.
For a large number of injuries, urgent care can be a better option than the emergency room. Fractures, sprains, minor burns, minor allergic reactions, insect bites, lacerations, concussions, neck pain, serious colds, infections, and more can be treated at an urgent care center.
Urgent care centers generally cost less, and have shorter wait times. Locate the nearest urgent care center to you today, before an emergency happens, so you know what care they can provide.
For the following conditions, you might try telemedicine before going to urgent care or the emergency room.
- Ear problems
- Insect bites
- Pink eye
- Respiratory problems
- Sore throats
- Urinary problems / UTI**
- Musculoskeletal strains
The increase in price per ED visit for treatment of low-acuity (less acute) conditions (from $914 per visit in 2008 to $1637 per visit in 2015).