How to get the most bang for your health care buck in Northwest Indiana - September 15, 2018
Courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana
Written by Giles Bruce
Health care is expensive.
Luckily in Northwest Indiana, patients have options.
No longer do people have to go to the emergency room if they need quick medical care.
From virtual visits to retail clinics to urgent care centers, people can get in and out fast — and at lower costs.
“It’s so important that patients understand they have options and they know those options ahead of time before they need them,” said Michael Telesky, vice president of sales and account management for UnitedHealthcare in Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
Here is a guide to the express care choices available in the Region. The cost and condition information is from UnitedHealthcare.
Average cost: $50 Conditions: Allergies, bronchitis, cold, fever, flu, pink eye
Virtual visits, accessible by smartphones or tablets, are the newest entrant in the quick care market. People can talk to a doctor, who may be anywhere in the nation, immediately, wherever they are, as long as they have an internet connection.
Locally, Franciscan Alliance has its own virtual medicine service, Franciscan On Demand, staffed with Indiana-based doctors employed by the Catholic health system.
Many virtual visit providers are available 24-7.
Average cost: $65 Conditions: Earaches, common infections, minor skin conditions
Retail clinics are located inside pharmacies and malls and staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. In Northwest Indiana, CVS has MinuteClinics at pharmacies in Munster, Crown Point, Valparaiso, Chesterton and DeMotte.
“We offer the same high-quality care you expect from an urgent care center or emergency department but our services do vary,” said Amy Lanctot, a spokeswoman for CVS. “Urgent care centers offer expanded services, including X-rays. Emergency rooms are best for medical care when you are experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury such as a heart attack or severe bleeding.”
Pharmacy clinics have the added convenience of allowing patients to see a provider and fill their prescriptions in one location.
Lancot said the MinuteClinics can also provide physicals, vaccinations and wellness services such as tuberculosis testing, a weight loss program, and smoking cessation.
The clinics are generally open on nights and weekends.
Urgent care centers
Average cost: $190 Conditions: Minor burns, lacerations, sprains
Urgent care centers are another step up in care, in that they generally do imaging on site and have staff physicians. The facilities have been proliferating in the Region in recent years, with hospitals and even orthopedic practices getting in the game as a way to attract new patients.
“If somebody needs an ambulance, they should be going to a hospital,” said Dr. John Johnson, CEO of Immediate Care Center in Schererville. “An ambulance wouldn’t take you to an urgent care if you begged them.”
He said urgent care facilities do a good job of treating just about everything else, from minor traumas to infectious diseases to chronic health issues.
“We always say patients can come to us for anything from simple earaches to broken bones and anything in the middle, at any age, any ailment that isn’t life threatening,” said Sangeet Shah, a partner at Midwest Express Clinic, which has locations in Hammond, Munster and Schererville. “Urgent cares are the perfect example of the growing trend in health care to provide convenient care that isn’t as expensive as the emergency room.”
Urgent care centers are also open nights and weekends, often with longer hours than retail clinics.
Average cost: $1,700 Conditions: Bleeding, broken bones, chest pain, difficulty breathing, sudden changes in vision, sudden weakness, sudden trouble speaking
Emergency rooms are by far the most expensive option but the only one for true emergencies. They are also the only in-person quick care choice open 24-7.
Deb Shepherd, director of the emergency departments for Porter Health Care System, said people should go to the ER for traumatic injuries, suspected strokes and heart attacks. But there can be gray areas.
“Trust your gut,” she said. “If you think it’s something you need to go to a hospital, you’ll never be wrong. We’ll treat you no matter what it is.”
She said one drawback is that people with nonemergencies can experience long wait times for care as ERs prioritize cases by severity.
And some payers, such as Anthem and the Healthy Indiana Plan, penalize patients for unnecessary ER visits.
“If someone is on the borderline of whether they should come or not, they should call their family doctor,” said Sheila Pochron, manager of the ER at Methodist Hospitals Southlake Campus in Merrillville. “They usually have someone available after hours to advise whether you should come or not.”