You’re not feeling well. You know something is wrong.
You call your doctor’s office, and the recording says, “If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911 or go to the emergency room.”
What else can you do besides going to the emergency room? And is this really an emergency? How can you tell?
If you go to the emergency room and you aren’t critically ill, you wait.
And you wait.
And you wait.
And when the bill comes, you owe a small fortune.
So, what can you do instead?
Quite a few things, actually.
You may not need to leave home. And it may even be free.
A physician at your fingertips: Telemedicine brings the doctor to you
Have a video call with a doctor, day or night, from the comfort of your home.
Doctors can treat minor conditions during a virtual telemedicine visit. These are conditions that don’t need a hands-on exam or tests for a diagnosis. They can be illnesses such as colds, pink eye, or some urinary tract infections.
And if your condition is more severe, your virtual doctor can guide you on what to do next.
How much does telemedicine cost? If you have insurance, it can be as low as $5, but you will have to check your plan. And if you need to pay out-of-pocket, it can typically run around $50.
Old tech can help you at home: Books that provide medical answers
Yes, books are still useful in the digital age. The good ones are well-researched and written to help you.
They provide home remedies and treatments for most common conditions. And they tell you what to watch for so you know when to go to the doctor, or even the emergency room.
These books provide general information for adults:
If you are a parent concerned about your child, these books are here to help:
And if you are pregnant, there is the classic:
How much do these books cost? Most are less than $20, or you might find them in your local library for free.
Googling your condition: Know which sites are trustworthy
Many doctors cringe when they hear a patient Googled their symptoms. However, a lot of useful information is available on the web, and Google has a project to provide you with reliable doctor-reviewed medical information. Just type in your symptom in the Google search box, and a Google Health Card will appear:
Google Health Card for “cough”
And if you want to browse websites with useful health information, here are a few to consider:
What’s the cost? Free!
Someone to talk to: Free nurse help lines answer your call
Did you know you can call a nurse anytime, day or night? Most insurance plans have a nurse advice line to answer your questions and to help you decide what you need to do next.
How do you find the number to call? If you have insurance, you can Google the name of your insurance + “nurse help line.”
But what if you don’t have insurance? Most health systems have a nurse help line available to the public for free. To find one near you, Google “nurse help line” + the name of the city or town you live in to find a list of numbers to call.
And the cost to speak with these nurses is free!
A trip to the drug store: Pharmacists do more than fill prescriptions
Did you know that you can ask your pharmacists for over-the-counter medication recommendations for your symptoms?
So, if you are having a minor illness, like a cold or the flu, they can tell you what to take. Or if you have a rash or other minor skin condition, your pharmacist can show you which ointment or cream to use.
And you can always ask your pharmacist about the prescriptions you take, or if there are less expensive alternatives. Or if you think you may have a medication side effect, they can help you figure it out.
What does it cost to talk to a pharmacist? Nothing!
Clinics inside stores: Retail clinics tackle most minor conditions
Many drug stores and retailers have clinics inside their stores. Nurse practitioners or physician assistants staff retail clinics instead of doctors, but these professionals are well-suited to take care of you.
Like telemedicine, these clinics can take care of minor illnesses and injuries. But they can go a little further because they can perform hands-on exams and tests to help make a diagnosis.
Many clinics have an online list of the conditions they treat to help you decide if visiting a retail clinic is right for you.
How much does it cost to go to a retail clinic? If you have insurance, it may be completely or partially covered. And you if don’t, some clinics have price lists so you can know your cost up front.
But it still might be an emergency: Try urgent care before the ER
So you’ve tried some of the options above, or you don’t think they are right for you. There is one more option before you go to the emergency room: urgent care.
Urgent care clinics treat many of the same things emergency rooms treat, and usually with a shorter wait. In fact, some urgent care clinics will let you check in online and wait at home.
How much does urgent care cost? About the same or a little more than retail clinics. And as with telemedicine and retail clinics, health insurance may cover the visit.
In the end, you can get the same treatment in urgent care at a fraction the cost of the emergency room.
Now you are prepared and in control
Imagine the next time you are sick and your doctor is not available, you get the treatment you need at home or at a nearby clinic.
Imagine you get the information you need so you know what to do about your condition.
Imagine a huge medical bill doesn’t hit your wallet.
These choices empower you.
Of course, if you have a life-threatening condition, definitely go to the emergency room. Or think of the emergency room as your safety net after you exhausted your options.
Emergency rooms can treat condition you have, serious or otherwise. However, there is a cost, both in time and money.
But for non-critical conditions, you have alternatives.
And the next time you aren’t feeling well, you are in control!