How Much Are Unnecessary Urgent Care Visits Costing You?

We’ve all been there: sitting in the waiting room at an urgent care clinic, waiting and waiting for a doctor to prescribe you an antibiotic for what you already know you (or your child) have. Now imagine if instead of taking off work or using PTO to sit in a waiting room, you could simply call a doctor and have a prescription in hand in less than fifteen minutes.

Urgent care centers are great facilities for many medical problems. Fractures, concussions, and the need for stitches are all examples of issues best handled at an urgent care facility. But common illnesses like sinus issues, sore throats, pink eye, and colds and flus don’t need to be diagnosed at an urgent care. Telemedicine can do the job just as well, plus faster and cheaper. 

Using urgent care centers, or even worse, emergency rooms, for conditions that can be effectively treated via telemedicine causes unnecessary, and expensive, medical claims. These costs can be lowered by providing telemedicine as an alternative to urgent care and emergency room treatment.

Let’s take a deeper dive into a common scenario: a sinus infection. Approximately 35 million Americans have a sinus infection each year. The pain and discomfort often sends us running to a doctor for relief. 

Case Study: Sinus Infection

When your sinuses get blocked, they can fill with fluid and become a breeding ground for germs. This can lead to an infection in the sinuses, called sinusitis. Acute or subacute sinus infections last at least two and up to twelve weeks. Symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, cough or congestion, and sometimes intense facial pain or pressure. 

Current State

The pain and congestion cause you to seek professional care from a doctor. But with a 19 day average wait time to see a primary care physician, you end up heading to an urgent care center for faster relief. The urgent care center is busy, so you’ll have to wait. After two hours, you finally get in to see a doctor. You explain your symptoms (you’ve had a sinus infection before), and the doctor asks a few questions. Then he prescribes an antibiotic and recommends using an over-the-counter decongestant and warm compresses to ease the pain. This straightforward advice (that you’ve heard before) generates a $156 dollar claim. 

Future State

The pain is severe enough that you want to seek a doctor’s help. You place a free call to your telemedicine provider and connect with a doctor in less than five minutes. The doctor listens to your symptoms and asks about your sinus history. Then he makes the diagnosis and prescribes an antibiotic and at-home treatment to lessen the pain. Exactly like the urgent care center doctor would. In less time than it would take you to drive to an urgent care and check in, you have your diagnosis and prescription in hand, at no cost to you.

Telemedicine: savings and convenience 

31% of telemedicine users report that they would have gone to an urgent care center if telemedicine hadn’t been available. This means all these people would have generated costly urgent care claims! And over 160 million people already visit an urgent care each year. Just think about how many of these people could be using telemedicine instead.

Not only could increased use of telemedicine reduce overall healthcare spending, it can actually be very beneficial to the users. It’s more convenient and takes less time. You don’t have to sit in a waiting room with other people’s germs or worry about spreading your germs around. And you often get more time actually talking to the doctor during a telemedicine call than during an in-person visit. You can have a thorough conversation and diagnosis with a physician, while remaining in the comfort of your home.

Imagine if everyone had access to telemedicine. Millions of dollars could be saved each year for employees, employers, and the entire healthcare system by diverting claims from expensive urgent cares and emergency rooms to low cost telemedicine. Patients and families can get the care they need, easily and quickly, without ever leaving their home. And employers can save money while providing an additional benefit their employees value. Everyone wins!

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