Being new to a country and especially as a parent, you have to be prepared for all situations. One of these situation can be a medical emergency of a family member or even yourself. You probably don’t have a regular doctor yet and with all the stuff currently going on in your new American life, you might not even know where to find a doctor yet. I hope you read this soon after your arrival to the U.S., because it may help you better understand your options for medical care, if you don’t have a lot of time to think about it.
How severe is the emergency?
• Chest pain or pressure
• Heart attack
• Upper abdominal pain or pressure
• Sudden or extreme pain
• Difficulty breathing
• Coughing or vomiting blood
• Heavy or uncontrollable bleeding
• Changes in vision
»» Go straight to the nearest Emergency Room (ER) at the hospital or call 911 and ask for an ambulance. If you call 911, make sure to tell them your address, because people sometimes forget and hang up too soon in a stressful situation like that. You also need to stay on the phone if they are sending an ambulance, so that they can get more information from you about the condition of the patient. If you’re driving to the ER yourself, bring your ID and health insurance card.
• Minor burns, injuries or cuts
• Sprains and strains
• Coughs, colds, and sore throats
• Allergic reactions (non life-threatening)
• Fever or flu-like symptoms
• Ear infections
• Rash or other skin irritations or infections
• Mild asthma
• Animal and bug bites
»» Go to the nearest Walk-in Clinic or UrgentCare. Find out as soon as you read this article what’s available in your area and where it’s located. This directory helps you to find some locations, but there are usually many more, so just use the site for figuring out the names of these clinics. In my area Urgent Care is most common. In yous it might be After Hours Medical, Doctors Express, Pinnacle Healthcare, PrimaCare Medical Center, etc
Can I just go to my primary doctor?
For non-life threatening symptoms or conditions you should actually try your primary doctor first. They already know your medical history and they may accept same day sick appointments, so you don’t have to wait as long as in a walk in clinic. There’s also less paperwork involved.
What about a Minute Clinic?
CVS is offering the Minute Clinic and other pharmacies are doing the same (e.g. in-store clinics like Target Clinic). If we’re talking true emergency, I wouldn’t go to one of these clinics. They are only for illnesses and minor wounds or bug bites.
How much will it cost?
There’s no generic answer for everyone, since it always depends on your individual health insurance plan and deductible. However, I’ll try to give you some guidance about what to expect in regards of co-payments.
An average amount here in North Carolina can be a $50 co-payment for a visit at UrgentCare and $150 for the Emergency Room when they are in your provider’s network. Every provider has a pool of physicians and doctors that are “in the network” and that agreed to work for predetermined lower rates. Everything that’s “out of network” you’re most likely end up paying more. In the example above you would be paying %60 of the total cost at UrgentCare. The ER would be the same $150.
If your health insurance plan comes with a deductible like mine, you would have to pay everything until you reach that certain deductible. Let’s say it’s $1,500, then you pay your bills until everything adds up to $1,500. Afterwards you don’t have to pay anything until the rest of the year.
Hospitals will always charge more than walk in clinics, just because they are much better equipped and can handle much more complicated injuries and symptoms. They are better staffed and available 24/7, 365 days, so it’s a much more expensive operation than running a walk in clinic.
A walk in clinic is definitely the cheaper option in some cases. However, they can exercise the right to refuse uninsured patients and that’s one way how they keep cost down, benefiting patients that do have insurance.
So, where should I go again?
You might not have a real choice on where to go in an emergency. It’s not a good idea to go for the cheaper option, if they can’t treat a life threatening injury. They will send you away to the next ER or call an ambulance for you, which causes additional cost on your part. Go by the lists above to determine what the best option is and you’ll get the treatment you need for the most reasonable price possible.
Prepare yourself in advance and find out where the closest ER and walk in clinic are and what emergencies they can treat. If a walk in clinic can take care of you, I would always choose them over the ER. For anything else, go straight to the ER and don’t jeopardize a fast recovery or even survival. When you do your homework and know where to go, call them and ask if they are in your provider’s network. One you know you are well prepared and memorized clinics that are “in your network”.
Unless you got a same day sick appointment at your primary doctor, you will most likely have to spend quite a long time in the waiting room at the ER or walk in clinic. It’s a first come, first served basis, except for life threatening conditions. But don’t get upset if they let you wait 2 hours when your kid just broke her arm and is in pain while you’re waiting for a doctor. Frustrating, but very common.
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to share what co-payments you are looking at on your plan, please share with us in the commenting section.
Photo credits: © Petr Ciz – Fotolia.com