Medically Approved

5 times virtual care saves the day

4 minute read
Person asking about medicine virtually

Can’t get to a doctor’s office or urgent care center? Find out when a same-day telemedicine appointment is a great option.

Amy Levato

By Amy Levato

You’ve got a bad, painful cough and you want to see a doctor right away. But maybe it’s not possible to drive to a local urgent care center or get in touch with your primary care doctor. That’s when a same-day virtual care appointment is a great option.

With online clinics, such as Optum Virtual Care, anyone can schedule an appointment with a medical provider who’s licensed in their state. You “see” a doctor via your smartphone or computer screen.

An urgent care telehealth appointment is a good choice for something that needs same-day attention but is not an emergency. It’s also convenient if you can’t get an appointment quickly with your primary care doctor.

Here are 5 situations when a virtual urgent care appointment can get you the care you need.

1. When you’re traveling

Virtual urgent care is perfect for travelers and people on vacation. When you’re in a new place, it can be hard to find a local doctor. Maybe you’re not sure where to go or whom to trust. There are many common illnesses people get while traveling. These can be easily treated over a video call.

“Common illnesses we see when people are on vacation are food poisoning, COVID-19, rashes and headaches,” says Ajfar Sherif, MD. He’s the medical director of Optum Everycare Now Virtual Urgent Care. If you’re traveling domestically, Optum Virtual Care can treat you, he says.

One caution: If you’re having chest pains, severe abdominal pain or stroke-like symptoms, don’t try to book a virtual appointment. Call 911 or go to the emergency department right away.

Need a doctor when you’re traveling? You can book a virtual care appointment at Optum from wherever you are.

2. When you’re too sick to leave the house

Say you’ve got a headache that’s kept you in bed all day. The last thing you want to do is get in your car and then sit in a waiting room at an urgent care center. Lounging in your pajamas is sometimes its own form of medication. Virtual urgent care lets you speak with a doctor from the comfort of your own home.

Many of the same issues that would send you to an urgent care clinic can be handled via a virtual appointment. Some examples include:

  • Sore throat
  • Sinus infection
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Rash
  • Tick bite
  • Food poisoning

3. When it’s late at night

Did you wake up with a stomach bug at 1 a.m.? Your local urgent care center is probably closed until morning. But some online urgent care centers are available for appointments 24/7.

For parents, telemedicine is a great alternative to packing your child into the car in the middle of the night and then sitting in a crowded waiting room. If the virtual appointment is for your child, have their height and weight ready. Many medications are based on those numbers.

Kids can often be seen quickly by a virtual doctor if they have these symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Low-grade fever
  • Nasal congestion
  • Rash
  • Seasonal allergies

(Anxious about seeing a doctor on your screen? Find out what a virtual visit is like.)

4. When you’re not sure if you need to see a doctor live

So you hurt your ankle during a morning jog. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain is a 5. Is it worth a trip to the doctor? Making a same-day virtual appointment can help you decide. It’s important to get a proper evaluation.

The doctor will look at your injury via your computer screen and ask questions about your symptoms. “We can teach the patient how to self-evaluate and help make a decision on what the diagnosis is,” says Shawn Long, MD. He’s the medical director of Primary Care at Optum Everycare.

Any minor injury that isn’t causing a lot of pain can easily be checked out in virtual urgent care. Your first instinct might be to head to the ER. But the emergency department is the worst place to access health care in a nonemergency, says Dr. Long.

5. When life gets in the way

Can’t take time off from work to see a doctor? Or maybe your car won’t start. Life’s little inconveniences can make it hard to get to an urgent care center when you’re sick. But with virtual urgent care, you can speak with a doctor during your lunch break or even on a Sunday morning.

Virtual care can also come in handy for people who live in rural areas, where it’s not easy to quickly get to a brick-and-mortar office.

Bottom line: In an emergency, call 911. For non-emergencies, “no matter what the reason for your appointment is, a virtual visit by far beats no visit at all,” says Dr. Long.

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Additional sources:

Telehealth: Mayo Clinic (2022). "Telehealth: Technology meets health care"