Navigating Healthcare—Tips from Shenandoah University Wellness Center
A part of becoming an independent adult is addressing your health care needs which include establishing care with a medical provider, scheduling appointments, and insurance. Here are some general tips to help you get started:
Medical Clinic vs. Urgent Care—What is the Difference?
Medical clinics (like the Wellness Center) provide a broad range of services which include acute care services for issues such as upper respiratory infections (strep throat, bronchitis, influenza), allergies, sprains, and urinary tract issues and also provide treatment for chronic illness like hypertension, migraines, asthma, depression/anxiety, sexual health, diabetes, thyroid disorders, acne, etc. Services at medical clinics are by appointment—there are no walk-in appointments available. Medical clinics generally operate on week days, do not have evening and weekend hours, and usually do not have full laboratory services or X-ray on site
Urgent care centers are staffed with multiple providers that allow for a large number of patients to walk-in for service on a first come first serve basis. Urgent Care centers provide services for acute needs as described above but do not follow and treat chronic illness. Urgent care centers usually have more laboratory services and some have x-ray available. Urgent care centers have longer hours and are often open 7 days per week.
Finding a Medical Provider
While a student at Shenandoah University you may access Wellness Center services regardless of what insurance plan you are covered under. Most services are free to registered students. The bonus in utilizing services at the Wellness Center is there is no office visit charge which can cost between $100-175 at a private clinic. The Wellness Center also has low costs for in house labs, vaccines, and sport/travel/women’s physicals. Charges accrued at the health center can be billed to your student account or student insurance plan so you don’t have to pay the Wellness Center at time of your appointment.
After leaving Shenandoah University, you will need a provider for medical care. Some adults choose to use urgent care centers for their healthcare needs but this is more costly for you and makes it difficult to establish a relationship necessary for good healthcare over time. You may be very healthy now but everyone experiences illness or suffers an injury and maintaining good health is essential to living your life to the fullest. Urgent care centers were developed for treating acute illness and not in promoting lifelong health.
Here are some tips on choosing a healthcare provider:
- Choose a provider that is “preferred” on your insurance plan. A preferred provider means you will pay less out of pocket.
- Choose a provider that is located conveniently for you, i.e., close to home or work.
- Ask friends, family or co-workers for referrals.
- Make an appointment to establish care with your new provider. There are usually wait times for a “new patient” appointment so call for an appointment right away. The first appointment is to review your health history, your family health history, your current health needs and medications. By establishing care, you will be able to see your provider quickly in the future when you have a health concern.
Scheduling an Appointment:
- The Wellness Center is a walk-in clinic so no appointment is necessary. Not all illness requires an appointment: For example, the common cold is a virus which does not require medical care or antibiotics. Self-care includes increasing fluids, rest, and over the counter medication for symptom relief. It is also important to practice good hygiene to decrease spread to those around you: wash hands frequently, sanitize surfaces, discard used tissues, and cover your cough. However if you have symptoms that are severe, not improving or getting worse you should call the Wellness Center to make an appointment with the Nurse Practitioner. Urinary symptoms should be seen same day as these are treated with antibiotics and can become serious quickly. There are many types of illness and your medical office will give you advice on all medical concerns.
- Evening hours—The Wellness Center has some evening hours on Tuesday and Thursdays to help meet your scheduling needs. You must call prior for availability.
- Evening and Weekend Care: For times when the Wellness Center is closed, you can go to an urgent care center or if an emergency the hospital. Or you may call the advice line associated with your insurance plan. The number should be on your insurance card. The advice provider will advise you as to whether you can wait until the next day for an appointment or if you should go to an urgent care or emergency room. Once you have left Shenandoah University and are established with a provider, there are after hour on-call numbers to speak with a provider. Providers are not able to assess you over the phone so again they will advise if illness can wait or if urgent care is needed. However, if you feel you need to be seen, go to an urgent care center or emergency room.
- Always carry your insurance card with you. If you do not have your insurance card you will be required to pay for services at time of visit at an urgent care center. Emergency rooms are required to see everyone, regardless of insurance coverage, however costs associated with an ER are significantly higher than at an urgent care. Urgent care centers are not for emergencies, but can be utilized for acute issues as described above.
- It is important to know what is covered under your insurance plan and what goes toward your deductible because charges accrued that are not paid by your insurance plan are your responsibility. For instance, there may be a copay for an office visit or you may have to pay 20% of office visit charge. Some lab and x-ray services may go toward meeting your deductible before insurance coverage begins.
- Be aware that some insurance plans cover naturopaths, chiropractors, nutritionists, acupuncture and some do not. Your insurance plan may require a referral from your medical provider to see a specialist.
- Deductible—some services are covered without meeting the deductible and some are applied to the deductible which is your financial responsibility. Know what your deductible amount is and what charges are applied to the deductible. Deductible amounts range from $300-$5000 per year.
- Medications—there are usually co-pays (your responsibility) with medication purchases. Generic medications are always less expensive than brand medications. Your insurance plan may have a mail order or 90 day supply option that may save you money for maintenance medications that are ongoing like birth control, blood pressure, thyroid, and antidepressants.