What Unnecessary Urgent Care Visits Cost Each Year

Maria Opdycke


160 million people visit the urgent care each year. 160 million. Let’s just take a second to think about how many hours that is for people away from work, and parents of sick children––the amount of PTO used just twiddling thumbs in a waiting room.

When urgent care centers are used appropriately, these families are saving time and money by choosing the alternative to costly emergency care. Situations like compound fractures and stitches can all be treated quickly and professionally at any urgent care facility. But there are many times when issues should simply be cared for over the phone using telemedicine, not urgent care.

When we use urgent care for things that can be treated via telemedicine (sinus issues, sore throats, flu, rashes), we build up unnecessary healthcare claims. And as a broker, you can help your clients lower these costs if you can provide an alternative to urgent care and the emergency room.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a case that applies to millions of people across the country: a sinus infection. These pesky illnesses can be painful enough to make us want to get immediate relief from the urgent care, but in reality, that is time and money wasted.

While uncomfortable, sinusitis is a perfect example of the type of illness that telemedicine can handle quickly, simply, and at no cost to your employee:

Case Study: Sinus Infection

When a sinus infection strikes, it takes your whole upper respiratory system down with it. Mostly due to the viral common cold, allergies, or severe germ and fluid buildup in the nasal cavities, sinusitis can leave you feeling congested and unable to breath easily. The sneezing, inflammation, and facial pain are extremely uncomfortable –– but all too common.

With 10,000 urgent care locations in the U.S., many of our first reactions are to get in as soon as possible. Sinus infections come on fast, and with average length of 19 days to get in to see a primary care physician, you may opt for the urgent care. They’re painful enough that you want to be seen soon by a doctor who might be able to provide some relief!

How Telemedicine Avoids Unnecessary Costs

Before telemedicine was available and widespread, you would choose urgent care to get quick diagnoses and treatment for a painful sinusitis bout. This would trigger a claim through your insurance. Now, telemedicine can handle this quickly without you having to leave home.

Instead of visiting the urgent care (around a $156 claim) and losing two hours of your time, you can make a free call to your telehealth doctor in around five minutes. Your doctor will listen to your symptoms, assess the severity, and make your sinus infection diagnosis –– just like an in-person physician would.

In fact, 31% of people who call telemedicine say they would have gone to their nearest urgent care if they hadn’t had the option to talk with a physician over the phone. This means 31% of the people who call us would be creating those healthcare claims for their employers!

60% of in-person visits could be resolved by a simple telemedicine call, and most telehealth calls actually result in longer time spent talking to your doctor about how to feel less stuffy and congested. Instead of sitting in a germ-filled office or waiting room, you can feel more comfortable in your home as you have a conversation about your illness and get the same great care.


What would happen if 31% of the people who actually went to urgent care centers each year––all 160 million of us––could get the treatment we needed over the phone? That is a huge amount of healthcare claims savings. Even if it’s more serious than a sinus infection, telemedicine can still reduce overall healthcare costs and unnecessary spending in urgent care.

We can still get the great care and comfort we need without the cost and lost time of an in-person visit. It’s a win-win for employees and employers!