International Student Guide: Visiting a Doctor in the U.S.

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The healthcare system in the U.S. can be confusing and much different compared to your home country. One of the main areas of confusion for visitors outside the U.S. is figuring out where to go in the event of an injury or sickness. There are different types of doctors and facilities that you can choose to go to for medical treatments. It is important to visit the correct provider to better assist your medical condition.

Here is a breakdown of which providers you should visit when you are not feeling well.

Student Health Center (SHC) – Student health centers provide a wide range of services and will be able to treat you. Your SHC is considered an in-network provider, so you do not need to worry whether they accept your insurance or not. This should be the first place you visit when you are not feeling well. One benefit of visiting your SHC is that you have easy access to it since it is located on your campus. Additionally, your deductible and copay are relatively lower, and you will have better coverage.

Primary Care Physician (PCP) – If you do not have access to a Student Health Center, visiting a primary care physician should be your first choice. Primary care doctors provide treatment for a wide variety of sicknesses and injuries. There are different types of primary care doctors you can choose such as family practitioners, internal medicine, pediatricians, geriatricians, and obstetrics and gynecology physicians (OB/GYN). You should visit a PCP for non-life-threatening medical conditions, and you will have to make an appointment before your visit.

Here are common illnesses that can be treated by a primary care doctor:

  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Back pain
  • Allergies
  • Earaches and infections
  • Influenza

Specialist– Specialists have training in specific areas of medicine and will be able to treat your medical condition. It is recommended to visit a primary care physician first before a specialist as a primary doctor can treat most injuries/sicknesses. For more serious sicknesses or injuries that your primary care physician is not equipped to treat, you should visit a specialist.

Here are the common types of specialist you can visit:

  • Allergists/Immunologists– Commonly known as allergists, they are experts in the treatment of asthma, allergies, and immune deficiency disorders.
  • Cardiologists- A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis or treatment of heart disease and heart abnormalities.
  • Dermatologists- A doctor who specializes in skin, hair, and nail disorders.
  • Endocrinologists- Specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid and hormone disorders.

Urgent Care/ Walk-in Clinic– For medical conditions that require immediate attention, but is not life-threatening, this is the place you should go. These facilities allow walk-ins, so you can go in to see a doctor with no appointment required. In addition, you can visit an urgent care if your primary care physician is unavailable to treat you. It is important to know the difference between conditions that need to be treated immediately but are not an emergency or life-threatening.

Here are the top 6 reasons why you should go to an urgent care rather than the emergency room:

  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Bleeding or Cuts
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever
  • COVID-19 Test
  • Moderate back pains

Emergency Room– You should ONLY visit the emergency room if you are experiencing a life-threatening medical condition. Keep in mind that if you go to the Emergency Room for a non-emergency situation, there is no guarantee of coverage and it is more expensive. How can you determine if your condition is life-threatening?

Here are the top 6 reasons why you should go to the ER:

  • Continuous chest pains
  • Broken bones
  • Severe burns
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Contusions head trauma or severe cuts
  • Suddenly dizzy or disoriented

Now that you know which provider you should visit; you can search for nearby doctors and hospitals using our PPO networks. Refer to the front of your insurance card to check which network works with your plan. Once you have found the provider of your choice, you can schedule an appointment!

Here are tips to help prepare you when visiting a doctor:

  • Prepare ahead of time: Be sure to have a good idea of what you would like to communicate to your doctor about your health. This will help the doctor to better treat you as quickly as possible.
  • Make a list of your concerns: It is important to bring up any concerns you have in order to help your doctor better understand your medical condition. This can include any new symptoms you are experiencing, getting a vaccine, or even how an ongoing treatment is affecting you. If you have multiple concerns, it will be best to make a list and ask about the most important ones first.  
  • Ask the right questions: Do not be afraid to ask your doctor about issues that concern you. Be honest about how you are feeling and get as much guided medical advice as possible. 
  • Request a translator if you need one- If you visit a doctor who does not speak your language, you are able to ask the doctor’s office for a translator. Having a translator will make you feel more comfortable when discussing your current medical condition. Make sure to call the doctor’s office ahead of time so they can have the translator available.
  • Insurance card: This has the necessary information that your provider uses to verify your coverage or if they need to contact our benefits and claims department, SISCO Benefits. Your insurance ID is available in your online account.
  • Copay: Be prepared for the likely chance that you will be asked to pay for your plan’s copay up front. This is a small fee that you must pay to your provider, and you can review your plan’s policy brochure or contact us for more details.
  • Claims: When you provide your insurance details to your provider, it has all the essential details needed to submit a claim. After your visit, make sure to follow up with your doctor’s office about whether they have filed your claim to the correct department and if they have, do not hesitate to contact SISCO Benefits for more information through email,, or their phone number: (833) 577-2586.

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