Urgent care relieves pressure on ERs, but at what cost?

New York State's Public Health Council is recommending tighter regulations for the rapidly growing urgent care sector, as patient advocates call for a better system for filing complaints about urgent care centers and making clear whether care is coming from doctors or physician assistants, NBC 4 New York reported.

There's no system "to process complaints specifically about urgent care facilities," Suzanne Mattei, executive director of New Yorkers for Patient and Family Empowerment, told the TV station. "And that means that you don't have people looking at complaint numbers and trying to figure out what's going wrong."

Urgent care centers can receive certification and accreditation from the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA), the Joint Commission and the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, according to an article in Managed Care. UCAOA has two levels of certification; the Joint Commission accredits centers under its ambulatory care standards.

Hospital systems are increasingly entering into partnerships with urgent care companies or opening their own urgent care clinics. For some, it's part of their evolution into accountable care organizations (ACOs) working to manage population health, according to the Managed Care article. Urgent care is a "cost-effective way to manage risk as well as a source for referrals."

An affiliation between Lahey Health of Massachusetts and CareWell Urgent Care "lowered the cost of care and lowered the risk" by providing an outlet for non-acute patients to be treated outside the emergency department (ED), CareWell vice president for operations Terry Giove told Managed Care.

In other cases, hospitals worry that urgent care centers are taking patients away from them. They cost less than an ED and can treat patients much more quickly. The convenience and affordability makes them attractive to many patients, but they're especially appealing in low-income areas with few doctors and large numbers of uninsured patients.

Some doctors in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area found a creative way to spread the word about the benefits of urgent care: the doctors and other staff filmed a rap video.

"Oh Rex Express, not as much stress. We get you in and out and we charge you less. We're not too far so when you get in your car, you sometimes should use us instead of ER," they "sang," reported ABC11.com in Raleigh.

For more information:
-here's the NBC 4 New York report
-see the Managed Care article
-check out the ABC11 report