Most of us have already been there. Someone very dear to you, a child, parent, brother, sister or spouse gets sick, and then really sick, and you get scared. And of course, it’s 11:30 at night on a Saturday! What to do?

As a first-time parent, I remember clearly being home with my six-month-old daughter one Saturday evening in 1990 when she “spiked” a temperature of over 102! She was listless, lethargic, burning up with fever. I thought she was dying, frankly.

My wife (the registered nurse) was working nights at the hospital, and it was just me and the baby. I was pretty scared. My first thought was to throw the baby into the car and GO! – the Emergency Room was only five minutes away. But, I called my wife first, and she was so cool:

“Just give her some of that liquid Ibuprofen, run a cool bath and let her play in it a bit. Let her suck on a popsicle if she wants one. Then call me back in an hour. Babies run much higher temps than grown-ups do, but they tend to go down just as fast as they go up.”

Just her calm voice was enough to soothe a lot of my anxiety. But my busy, noisy, active baby was listless, hardly moving, not responsive at all. It was frankly terrifying.

But Mom the RN knew best. I gave her the Ibuprofen, soaked her in the tub, offered the popsicle, and a few minutes later, she was like a different child, right back to her old, crazy, playful self! The temp was down. I thought, “What would I have done if I wasn’t married to a cool-headed nurse who does this for a living?”

BlueCare: The Doctor Will See You Anytime, Anywhere
Today, there is a brand-new answer to this question. This new option was not available to me in 1990, but fortunately, things are different now. Today, I can see a doctor anytime, within 10 minutes, without leaving my home for $39 or less. And yes, all Blue Cross customers can do the same!

We call it BlueCare. And it is changing the way healthcare is delivered. You simply go to  www.BlueCareLA.com, establish a FaceTime-like connection via your computer, tablet or smartphone (any device with camera to let you see and speak to the doctor), pony up $39 (you may get a refund depending on which health insurance plan you are on) and you will be face-to-face with a doctor within 10 minutes on average. BlueCare is available on demand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Going to the ER to treat (sinus infections, earaches, or stomach bugs) is sort of like using an atomic bomb to start your fireplace in the winter.”

Just like when my wife told me what to do way back in 1990, you can get high-quality, professional advice really quickly. And it’s important for your out-of-pocket costs that you choose wisely when deciding where to go for care.

Where Do I Go for Care?
In 1990, if I wasn’t married to an RN, what would I have done? The same thing most people do today:

Show up at that ER! Where they could have done nothing for my baby except give her Ibuprofen, cool her with rags and then charge me $1,000 for the trouble. Probably after waiting with her and worrying for hours and hours. That was then. Today, we could fire up the iPad and show her to the doctor from the comfort of our own home within 10 minutes or less. For $39.

(Note: You can also call your primary care provider’s answering service, but I know from experience that they might just tell you to go to the ER if it’s after hours.)

If you want more information about using the right care in the right place at the right time, I have tons of resources for you right here.

You see, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the emergency room and when people decide to use it, and the numbers are frankly staggering. ER use is a huge driver of healthcare costs, and it is RISING, not decreasing, as more and more people gain healthcare coverage after the Affordable Care Act. And most ER visits are for non-emergency health needs like sinus infections, earaches or stomach bugs — see this report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website that lists the top 10 reasons people went to the ER. Going to the ER to treat these symptoms is sort of like using an atomic bomb to start your fireplace in the winter.

Insurance companies like Blue Cross are responding to this ER over-use by raising copayments. It can now cost you hundreds of dollars out of pocket to use the ER for a non-emergency. At the same time, we know a lot of customers go to the ER for the same reason I almost did in 1990 – the doctor’s office is closed, and there is nowhere else to go.

“The emergency room bills cost 465% MORE on average than treating the same conditions at urgent care. And retail health clinics or your doctor’s office would have been even less.”

That’s why we are giving new solutions by covering online doctor visits. BlueCare is no more than $39. And if the medical professional you see online thinks you have a true emergency and needs to go to the ER, he or she will advise you to do so.

ER Overuse and Your Healthcare Costs
Media reports in Spring 2016 claimed the closure of the Baton Rouge General Mid-City emergency room had a double cause: Uninsured patients who couldn’t pay, which drove up their operating costs, and the fact that up to 80% of the people who showed up in the ER on any given day were having a “non-emergency,” which took staff time away from treating true emergencies. Imagine if all those folks could have been “seen” by a medical professional on their phones?

We have an obligation here at Blue Cross to help our 1.6 million members choose the right care, for the right condition, at the right time. Imagine how much shorter wait times at the ER would be if everybody used BlueCare when it wasn’t a true emergency?

It’s important to remember that the gateway to appropriate care is still having a good relationship with a primary care doctor, whether that be a pediatrician, general practitioner, geriatrician, family practice doctor or internist. These relationships are the first step in guiding us to getting the best care at the best time.

We are very blessed in Baton Rouge to have high-quality trauma care at our disposal, and believe me, when you have a legitimate emergency, they will take first-class care of you. But the ER is not the best place for earaches, toothaches, sinus infections or back pain, and patients with those issues make up a big chunk of the folks in the ER right now, as I’m writing this. We can do better, of course.

And how about the costs of making the wrong choice? In time AND money.

Recently, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers performed a study that examined treatment costs for the nine most common ailments that drive people to the ER. The researchers compared the same ailments treated in the ER to the cost if they had simply chosen urgent care (Remember – seeing a primary care doc or Blue Care would be even cheaper than that!)

Price difference? The emergency room bills cost 465% MORE on average than treating the same conditions at urgent care. And retail health clinics or your doctor’s office would have been even less. These nine most common ailments sadly are not the kind of things the ER is good at treating anyway.

So my advice today is simple: Don’t wait until something scary is happening and then try to make a decision while you are under fear and pressure. Get a relationship with primary care doctor NOW and make your first appointment today, so when you get sick or hurt, you have a qualified person you can call for advice. After-hours or if your transportation options are limited, use BlueCare to talk to and see a real, live medical professional for your problem! These folks can be very, very useful in a crisis.

Your health, peace of mind and your wallet will be glad you did!

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