Provider’s office, telemedicine or urgent care? Where to turn for help

When it comes to addressing your health needs, you have options. Take our quiz to learn the best route for your situation.

Brittany Risher
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Fever. Aches. Accidents. Strange symptoms. When something changes with your health, you know you need some kind of care. But do you call for an in-person exam? Ping your health care provider for a virtual visit? Hop in the car and head to the urgent care clinic down the road? 

These days, you have plenty of options when you need medical attention. Telemedicine appointments are quickly becoming routine and many medical offices are now offering these types of visits to their patients. Check with your provider’s office to see if they offer telemedicine services. If not, you may still be able to receive virtual visits through your UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage plan. Sign in to your plan's website to see if you have a virtual medical visits benefit available to you.

While there’s not necessarily a wrong choice — all of these providers will be able to help you — different situations call for different solutions. Making a smart decision in the heat of the moment can help save you valuable time and money. 

So what’s your plan of action? Take this quiz to learn the best route for some common medical scenarios.

1. You’ve had a cough for a few days and developed a fever overnight. It could be the flu — or COVID-19. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to an emergency room or call 911.

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UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls brings yearly check-in care to you in your own home. You’ll get a physical exam, health screenings and plenty of time to talk about your health questions with a licensed medical practitioner.

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Answer: B, Telemedicine
Here’s why: Even if you have not knowingly been around someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, stay home if you’re experiencing any symptoms that might be COVID-19, says Sterling Ransone, M.D., president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians and a practicing family physician in Virginia.

“You don’t want to risk giving the virus to others,” says Dr. Ransone. Instead, call your provider and set up a virtual visit, either by phone or through a video chat, if available.

With a telemedicine appointment, says Dr. Ransone, your provider can assess your condition and counsel you on your next steps. Those include whether or not you should be tested, how to care for yourself at home, and what to do if your symptoms don’t improve. 

“Sometimes, if I think it sounds like a patient may have pneumonia, I will have them come to the clinic in person but stay in their car,” he says. “I go out and listen to them.” 

Some providers are making the process easier for patients using online technology. If your provider has this capability, you may be asked to complete an online questionnaire about your symptoms and other personal medical factors. This is called a virtual intake form. The provider will then review your answers and reply with a diagnosis via a secure messaging platform. 

Did you know UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls
is also part of your care team?

UnitedHealthcare® HouseCalls brings yearly check-in care to you in your own home. Connect for up to a full hour of 1-on-1 time with a member of our licensed medical staff. You’ll get a physical, health screenings and plenty of time to talk about your health questions. It’s a great way to feel confident about your health knowing an extra set of eyes is looking out for you between regular doctor’s visits.

To see if your plan includes HouseCalls and to schedule your in-home visit today, call 1-800-934-0280 or click here

*HouseCalls may not be available in all areas.

2. Earlier in the day you missed a step outside your door. You didn’t fall, but now your knee is throbbing and slightly swollen. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to an emergency room or call 911.

Answer: C, Urgent Care
Here’s why: A good rule of thumb is use urgent care for minor medical issues, and head to the emergency room for major, potentially life-threatening concerns, says Erika Hutz, D.O., an internist and geriatric medicine specialist with Swedish Medical Group in Chicago.

Even though you caught yourself, you might have sprained or otherwise injured your knee. The providers at an urgent care clinic will be able to conduct a physical exam and do a quick image of your knee to confirm the diagnosis and check for hidden injuries in the area. 

To avoid surprise costs, make sure the urgent care center you choose is part of your health plan’s network. Sign in to your plan's website. Then click on Find Care. 

3. Lately you feel like you need to use the bathroom more than normal. But often when you get there, you don’t pee that much, and it burns when you urinate. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to an emergency room or call 911.

Answer: A, In-Person Visit — but Sometimes B 
Here’s why: Most likely you have a urinary tract infection (UTI), but your provider will want to confirm this with a quick in-office urine culture and exam, says Dr. Hutz. But there are times when even this type of a serious health problem can be handled with a virtual visit, she adds.

If you’ve had UTIs in the past, for example, and you are otherwise healthy, you can ask about a telemedicine visit, says Dr. Hutz. Your provider will ask detailed questions about your symptoms and, knowing your health history, can rule out other possible diagnoses. Then, if all signs point to a UTI, the provider can prescribe an antibiotic. 

Talk to a nurse 24/7

Call the number on your UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage member ID card to speak with a nurse about health care concerns. If you’re experiencing a medical emergency, call 911.

4. While cooking dinner, you accidentally spilled some boiling hot marinara sauce on your arm. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to an emergency room or call 911.

Answer: It depends 
Here’s why: With a severe burn, typically the skin is leathery, white or charred, explains Dr. Ransone. The affected area also does not hurt (due to nerve damage) or have blisters. In this instance, he says, go to the emergency room right away.

If the burn is swollen, blistered, red and painful, however, he suggests getting it checked out at an urgent care clinic. Finally, if you’re uncertain about the severity and you have the option to do a same-day virtual visit by video call, schedule an appointment. The provider can triage your burn and advise you what to do, he says.

5. The dosage of your blood pressure medication was recently changed, and you’re wondering if this new rash is connected. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to the emergency room or call 911.

Answer: A, In-Person Visit, or B, Telemedicine 
Here’s why: Whether you see your provider via telemedicine or at the office, it’s a great time to ask follow-up questions about the medicines you’re taking or to report possible side effects, says Dr. Ransone. If you opt for a telemedicine appointment, be sure to have a few key data points on hand. For example, in the case of high blood pressure, plan to share your recent home readings (if you have them) during the virtual visit. If you have diabetes, have your recent blood glucose numbers handy. 

Since your PCP knows you and your health history, Dr. Ransone adds, this brief check-in is another opportunity to make sure the treatment plan for your condition is still appropriate. 

Setting up home delivery for your
medications is simple

Want to get set up with home delivery? You can order prescriptions by signing in to your plan website and going to the Pharmacies & Prescriptions tab. 

6. For the past few weeks, you’ve been feeling more irritable and having trouble concentrating. You’re also tired and have lost interest in your hobbies. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to the emergency room or call 911.

Answer: A or B
Here’s why: What you’re noticing could be early signs of depression — or something else completely, says Dr. Ransone. It’s important that you not ignore these changes in your mood or outlook. “Ignoring your mental health can have negative effects on your physical health,” he says.

A call to your PCP is a good first step. He or she will want to hear about what you’re experiencing and give you a depression screening. 

The next steps will depend on several factors. Dr. Ransone points out that telemedicine services for mental health conditions are very good. These include virtual visits with a trained mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist. “Telepsych services are an optimal way to do a lot of psychological counseling and medication management,” Dr. Ransone says. 

Check with your provider to see if they offer telemedicine services for mental health. If not, you may still be able to get a virtual mental health visits benefit through your UnitedHealthcare® Medicare Advantage plan. Sign into your plan website to see if your plan includes this benefit.

7. You’re sweating, short of breath and having chest pain. What do you do?

A. Schedule an in-person visit with your primary care provider (PCP).
B. Make a telemedicine appointment.
C. Go to an urgent care clinic.
D. Head to an emergency room or call 911.

Answer: D, Call 911 
Here’s why: These are signs of a possible heart attack, according to the American Heart Association. Other red flags include pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, back, or one or both arms. Your only move should be to call 911 or have someone get you to the emergency room immediately. 

“Urgent care and physician offices do similar things, and often they can do an EKG,” says Dr. Hutz. “But they don’t have a cardiologist or other specialists on call. Plus, an emergency room can also do an echocardiogram and more intensive testing and imaging.” 

Other times when you should call 911 or head to the emergency room right away:

  • Significant bleeding
  • Head injuries
  • Choking
  • Vomiting blood
  • Atypical confusion, loss of balance or an inability to move one side of the body (these could be signs of a stroke)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe pain
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harming others
  • Seizures


This information is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for the advice of a doctor. Consult your doctor prior to beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.