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IBX Insights

Family doctor, Urgent Care, or ER?

By March 1, 2018April 12th, 2022Health Insurance Member Resources
Illustration of someone considering their various care options

You’re cutting an avocado for dinner and you slice your finger. It’s Friday night and your sinuses are so congested, you don’t know how you’ll survive the weekend. Your daughter wakes up Saturday morning with pinkeye.

When it’s a true emergency, the decision of where to get medical attention quickly is easy. You either call 911 or you get to the nearest emergency room (ER). But it’s much harder to know when and where to go for urgent care.

You may have noticed there are different types of walk-in medical centers popping up — whether it’s a retail clinic in your local pharmacy or an urgent care center down the road. Telemedicine is another option growing in popularity because it allows you to see a doctor without even leaving your home.

The best thing you can do, for both your health and your wallet, is to know what in-network options you have near you and what types of illnesses and injuries each can treat. We can help you figure out when to get care from your family doctor, urgent care center, or ER.

Where to Go for Urgent Care When Your Family Doctor is Unavailable

When you have a health concern that’s not an emergency, your first stop should be your primary care doctor (aka family doctor) because he or she knows your history and has the best view of your overall health. But if the office is closed or you can’t get an appointment soon enough, you have a few different ways to receive urgent care:

  • Telemedicine — Many plans now cover telemedicine, so check your benefits to see if you’re covered. With telemedicine, you can see a family doctor by video on your phone or computer, anytime or anywhere. Each plan varies, but your cost is typically about the same as what you would pay for a regular office visit.
  • Retail clinic – Some retail clinics are located in pharmacies, while others are in their own building. The idea is that you can walk right in and get care for minor illnesses and injuries, without an appointment.
  • Urgent care center — An urgent care center can handle everything a retail clinic can, and even some more serious issues, like when you need stitches or have sprained an ankle. You may pay more than a visit to your doctor or retail clinic, but it will cost less than an ER visit.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Coverage When You Need Urgent Care

Here are a few tips to keep in mind next time you need to see your family doctor, urgent care center, or ER:

  • Know what each type of provider can treat. Bookmark this page as a quick reminder of what types of care may be available to you and the illnesses and injuries they can treat. That way, when you need to make a quick decision, you’ll know when to visit the family doctor, urgent care center, or ER.
  • Find out if you’re covered and how much it will cost you. Many plans cover retail clinics and urgent care centers, and telemedicine is also becoming a more popular benefit. Check your benefits summary to see if you’re covered and what your out-of-pocket cost will be (IBX members: use the IBX app or log in at Sometimes seeing the difference in cost is enough to remind you that the ER is not your only option for minor or urgent care.
  • Visit an in-network provider. Don’t just visit the first retail clinic or urgent care center you see. Check to be sure it’s one that participates in your health plan’s network (IBX members: Use the IBX app or log in at Take note of the ones nearest you and jot down the hours so you have it ready when you need it. If your plan covers telemedicine, find out which vendor to use (many IBX members have access to MDLIVE).

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.


Paula Sunshine

Paula Sunshine is senior vice president and chief marketing executive at Independence Blue Cross. She oversees all commercial and consumer marketing activities, including digital assets such as and the IBX mobile app. Ms. Sunshine earned a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics from Emory University and a master of business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.