Why Urgent Care Centers Are In An Urgent Growth Pattern

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Why Urgent Care Centers Are In An Urgent Growth Pattern

Why Urgent Care Centers Are In An Urgent Growth Pattern

It's an interesting fact that – despite resistance from the traditional primary care providers – urgent care centers are continuing an aggressive growth pattern.

The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine reports that 700-800 new clinics open every year.  Since 2008, urgent care centers in the US have grown from 8,000 to 9,300.  Also from AAUCM, there are now 20,000 physicians who practice Urgent Care Medicine today, and the number is growing.  Urgent Care professionals have developed Urgent Care Medicine into an important, recognized specialty that represents this fast-growing medical field.

It also makes sense for employers and health plans to direct individuals to urgent care facilities when appropriate, as research has shown the model to be compellingly cost efficient.  According to a 2009 study by the Rand Corp., the cost of treatment for sore throat, ear infection and urinary tract infection was at least 30 percent lower at an urgent care center clinic than in other settings, with the quality of care just as good.

In fact, care at at urgent care centers - like Brookside Urgent Care Center – is considered so good that Dr. Michael Pitt, a staff pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago told Chicago Medicine magazine' “We really should be thought of as an after-hours doctors’ office.”

Even so, traditional medical professionals are sounding alarms and resisting change.  Some primary care doctors claim that a string of minor scrapes or illnesses may signal a larger problem.  They also complain that using an urgent care clinic can interrupt the “continuity of care” performed by primary care physicians.

Family doctors take a more holistic view of a person,” said Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.  If a teenager comes in with lacerations, for instance, a family doctor might broach the subject of alcohol or drug use.  Similarly, a series of seemingly minor illnesses might indicate a larger, less obvious problem.

But consumers seeking to avoid long waits in emergencies rooms and grateful for more convenient evening and weekend hours are driving a steady growth in urgent care centers.

Urgent care centers are quickly emerging as a popular, cost-effective alternative to the emergency department, reports a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) for the nonpartisan, nonprofit National Institute for Health Care Reform.

Even Physicians Practice Assistant Managing Editor Erica Sprey acknowledged traditional practices could benefit from initiating some of the qualities of the walk-in clinics.  Sprey, said she was impressed by a recent walk-in's cleanliness and efficiency in handling patient intake, prescription list, insurance information and payment all by one person.  She added that care-coordination was equally smooth, as she was given the option of having a chart note describing the visit sent directly to her primary care physician.

"My treatment was efficient, coordinated and completed with a minimum of extraneous steps or work," Sprey wrote.  "Even though an urgent-care center like this is limited in focus and therefore better able to standardize procedures, processes and staff roles, there is power in simplicity and forethought."

Local centers like the neighborhood Brookside Urgent Care Center offer all the benefits of primary care or emergency department care without the long wait or the high prices.

In an article in the Washington Post, Emily Auerswald described her family's experience with urgent care.  For minor illnesses or injuries, they head to a shopping center near Annapolis that has a Starbucks, a Five Guys hamburger joint and an urgent care center.  “I have a doctor, and my kids’ pediatricians are great, but we’d prefer not to have the long wait in the office.  So we come here and everything seems so much faster,” said Auerswald, 36, who was having a doctor remove the stitches he had put in her foot after a weekend boating accident.

The “wait time” issue at hospitals (as well as primary care doctors) for even minor wound care, stitches, or diagnostic tests has become almost unbearable.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that over a recent 10 year period (1999 – 2009) wait times increased by 25% and under the Affordable Care Act, it's bound to get much worse.