Urgent care centers compete with EDs for patients

Urgent care centers are drawing patients away from hospitals, according to the Texas Tribune.

In Texas, patients are increasingly opting for the centers for allergy treatments, stitches or X-rays of broken bones as a cheaper, speedier alternative to emergency departments (EDs), a business model that has been compared to that of McDonald's. "There is more and more of a need for alternative venues where people can be evaluated and treated," Jon L. Belsher, chief medical officer of the MedSpring Urgent Care clinics, told the Tribune. "And urgent care centers are one of those venues."

About 300 urgent care clinics a year open nationwide, according to the article. This adds to Texas hospitals' woes, as they are competing for the same pool of uninsured patients.

"Competition is generally a good thing, but it needs to be a level playing field," John Hawkins, senior vice president for government relations for the Texas Hospital Association, told the Tribune. Urgent care centers are at an advantage, Hawkins said, because for the most part they do not accept Medicaid and hospital EDs are required to take all patients regardless of their ability to pay.

Moreover, the expansion of urgent care clinics coincides with cuts in federal reimbursements for uncompensated hospital care. These cuts were meant to be offset by Medicaid expansion, but Texas is among the states that declined to expand the program.

Meanwhile, some hospital systems are looking to take advantage of the expansion, with Massachusetts-based Southcoast Hospitals Group planning to open its second urgent care center in September, with future plans for two more, according to the Southcoast Business Bulletin. In addition to hospital systems expanding into urgent care, many regions have large, established urgent care center chains, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the Tribune article
- here's the Bulletin article