When you find yourself in need of medical assistance, it can be easy to run to the first medical provider you think of. In your haste for care, however, you may end up doing more harm than good. Unplanned visits to the hospital often incur extensive wait times or high costs not covered by your family health care plan. While it isn’t always possible to avoid urgent care facilities and family health care plans differ in the services they cover, there are a few things you can do to prepare you and your family for better family health care.
- Find a primary care physician you trust.
Your primary care physician is meant to be your gateway to getting the best medical coverage possible. Ideally, he or she will be someone you can consult first on any medical issue. Decide on the characteristics that are important for you in a primary care physician, then utilize the primary care physician search tools on your local medical provider’s website to sort through your options.
Each type of primary care physician, from family practitioners to internists or even nurse practitioners, offers a different scope of care they provide. If your job doesn’t offer a lot of flexibility, look for a physician who offers after-hours coverage. This will limit your choices, seeing as less than 30% of primary care physicians have after-hours coverage, but will be worthwhile in the long-run when you’re able to develop a more meaningful relationship with your physician.
Once you’ve found a physician who appears to meet your needs, you can search primary care physician reviews online. It’s also important to keep in mind that family health care plans often limit the providers they collaborate with or may offer financial incentives for you to go through certain ones.
- Know when to go to an emergency room versus urgent care.
Emergency care is for when a person’s life is in danger if his or her condition is not treated with immediate medical attention. You should go to an emergency walk in clinic if any of the following apply:
- Your symptoms are severe or life threatening
- Your symptoms came on suddenly or unexpectedly
- You’re experiencing extreme pain
- There is excessive bleeding or broken bones
If none of these circumstances apply but you can’t wait for your primary care physician to become available, you’re likely better off at an urgent care facility. Emergency rooms (ERs) are notorious for long wait times, cramped conditions and high costs. In the six years preceding 2009, average wait times in U.S. ERs saw a 25% increase, rising from just over three-quarters of an hour to nearly a full hour. Similarly, 78% of emergency room visits in 2009 were to ERs that were forced to administer to patients in hallways and other spaces due to a shortage of inpatient beds.
In addition to excessive wait times, ER visits often come at a higher cost. According to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for 2009, individuals who had one or more ER visits incurred average expenses of $1,318. The typical cost of care is less than half of that at $615.
- Familiarize yourself with the clinics in your area.
Your primary care physician may not always be available, and ER and urgent care visits are typically fraught with discomfort and cost. So where else can you turn for care? The answer will depend on your location and which of the family health care plans you have, but one option is to visit your neighborhood health clinic.
You may be able to find a family health clinic nearby, or a health clinic for children in particular. Some clinics offer family quick care. Certain areas even have a free walk in clinic or a mobile health clinic that services the neighborhood. Familiarize yourself with the various options in your area and which family health care plans work with them. It’s best to look for a low cost health clinic, of course, but also take into account the services provided, condition of the facility and area in which the clinic is located.
When it comes to planning for medical care, choosing from the family health care plans available is only the beginning. Follow these tips to ensure your family receives the best care possible.