When you or a loved one becomes sick, the first person you call is your doctor. But when it’s 5 p.m. and the primary care doctor is gone for the night, what happens then? For minor issues, a trip to an urgent care or even a virtual doctor’s visit can be more convenient and less costly options than an emergency room visit, so it’s important to know your options when deciding where to go. However, if you are experiencing an emergency, you should always seek the appropriate medical care immediately.

Urgent care

Urgent care is often appropriate for minor injuries and situations that aren’t life-threatening, but require near-term care. Many patients are seen within 15 minutes and cost an average about $150 per visit. Urgent care providers typically see patients for:

  • Coughs/cold/fever
  • Minor cuts and scrapes
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Ear infections/aches
  • Pink eye
  • Minor skin injuries/bug bites/irritations


Similar to urgent care, telehealth is great for minor illnesses because of the short wait for appointment times. It’s also available 24/7, like an ER. Visits take just minutes and costs are reasonable. A virtual doctor’s appointment is convenient for:

  • Coughs/cold/fever
  • Abdominal pain/cramps
  • Acid reflux
  • Arthritis, joint pain and swelling
  • Eye infection/irritation
  • Infections like bronchitis, sinusitis, etc.
  • Menstrual issues

Emergency department

ERs are for true emergencies involving trauma or life-threatening injuries or illnesses. They are equipped with imaging, labs and operating rooms for surgical procedures to perform any level of care needed. On average, ER visits take about 4 hours and cost over $1,200 each. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus recommends you go the ER if you experience:

  • Chest pain and numbness
  • Life-threatening or disabling conditions
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Head injury with loss of consciousness
  • Multiple broken bones
  • Spinal cord or traumatic brain injury
  • Severe burns

Another option: Virtual second opinion

For conditions or treatment options you’re questioning that don’t need immediate care, a virtual second opinion is another way to get the answers you need. It’s convenient, because you don’t have to leave home, but still thorough, as all of your medical information is collected and analyzed. As a result, you can be sure you’re getting the right diagnosis and treatment recommendations.


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