The competition for patients is heating up and the urgent care choices are many. Now you can visit a nurse practitioner at Walmart or go to a free standing urgent care or visit a traditional Emergency Department. While the options are extreme and varied, more and more patients are moving away from traditional Emergency Department use.
There are reasons why alternative immediate care needs are met outside the physician office and Emergency Department settings.
- Patients with children have expressed that taking kids for minor injuries or minor issues (like ear aches, for instance) may go to a Wal-mart for treatment. Retail urgent cares are becoming more popular for accessibility, total time spent in facility and price. Of course, the patient will not see a physician, so if there are underlying issues, they may be missed. On the other hand, Nurse Practitioners are quick to refer to a MD if they suspect something else going on.
- Hospitals, especially large specialty hospitals are opening neighborhood urgent cares to meet patients where they are instead of expecting patients to travel distances to receive specialty care. Children’s Hospitals in Houston has taken this approach successfully. By offering their brand in local neighborhoods in strip mall locations, people will take their kids to these locations and receive good care at a convenient location.
- Although a patient can receive treatment without insurance at a traditional Emergency Department, it takes a lot of time and all patients, regardless of acuity, are treated basically according to the Emergency Department standard.
- It is not unusual for a multi-specialty clinic to also run an urgent care center for the convenience of their patients. EHRs are available to the urgent care department and a good alternative for minor emergencies after hours. Communication back to physicians in the complex also provides continuity of care for patients; a critical communication often over-looked in other urgent care settings.
The current healthcare practice would do well to establish relationships with recommendations for their patients needing minor convenient attention at affordable prices. While sending patients somewhere else is not the best alternative, it sometimes makes sense for everyone. Familiarity with urgent care facilities and being able to endorse a facility brings value to patients that they will appreciate. It may also facilitate the communication between patients and physicians.
Medicine has always been competitive. That probably won’t be changing in the foreseeable future.