I often talk with clients about when to use different providers for medical care. “Should I go a Convenience Care Clinic, Urgent Care Clinic, the Emergency Room, or see my doctor?” is a question often asked in enrollment meetings. So I thought I’d give a handy primer.

But, as always, if it is a life threatening emergency dial 911!

Convenience Care Clinic – these clinics treat minor medical concerns. They are typically staffed by Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants. Located in retail stores and pharmacies. Often open nights and weekends. Cost is typically lower than a doctor’s office, no appointment needed, and wait times are typically 15 minutes or less.

Conditions treated*

  • Common Cold / Flu
  • Rashes or skin conditions
  • Sore throat, earache, sinus pain
  • Minor cuts or burns

Doctor’s Office – the best place to go for routine or preventive care, to keep track of medications, or to see a medical specialist. May charge a co-pay or cost applies to your deductible, usually requires an appointment, short wait times.

Conditions treated*

  • General health issues
  • Preventive Care & Routine checkups
  • Immunizations and screening
  • Complex, chronic, or specialized medical issues
  • Consult on and perform complex procedures and surgery

Urgent Care Center – for conditions that are not life threatening. Staffed by nurses and doctors. Usually have extended hours. Lower costs than Emergency Rooms, no appointment needed, wait times vary but typically shorter than the Emergency Room. Note – some Urgent Care Centers can also be listed as “Freestanding Emergency Rooms”. Make sure you consult your insurance company’s online provider list or use its smartphone app to find Urgent Care centers – usually on smartphone apps there is a button that will locate the nearest in-network Urgent Care Clinic.

Conditions treated*

  • Minor cuts, sprains, burns, rashes
  • Fever and flu symptoms
  • Headaches, joint pain
  • Minor respiratory symptoms

Emergency Room (ER) – for immediate treatment of critical injuries or illness. Open 24/7. Staffed by Emergency Medicine Physicians and Nurses. Highest cost, no appointment needed, wait times may be long depending on your condition (ER staff must “triage” patients and place them in order based on severity of the situation).

Conditions treated*

  • sudden numbness, weakness
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Seizure or loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Head injury / major trauma
  • Sever cuts or burns
  • Overdose

As a reminder, always check to see if a provider is in your insurance company’s network – this helps control your cost and streamlines claim payments.

In-network or non-netowrk does not apply to Emergency Rooms – insurance companies apply special rules to cover these in emergency situations.

* These lists are not all-inclusive