Urgent care boom forces docs to adapt

As FierceHealthcare reported previously, use of retail, urgent and other same-day health services is booming, and that's not necessarily good news for physicians. Urgent care centers--which often have physicians on staff and treat more serious conditions, such as broken bones and allergic reactions--currently outnumber U.S. emergency rooms, with more than 9,000 locations. They see an estimated 3 million patients each week, according to the Urgent Care Association of America, Kaiser Health News reported.

But while patient demand for such centers remains strong, physician groups have warned that patients are risking a tradeoff when care is not coordinated through their regular doctor. "Family doctors take a more holistic view of a person," Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told KHN. For example, a family doctor might be able to put together a string of seemingly minor illnesses that might indicate a larger problem, he added.

Patients, it seems, don't discount the value of having a strong doctor-patient relationship, but they overwhelmingly prefer to avoid the hassle of calling and waiting for an appointment and seek walk-in care anyway.

"I have a doctor, and my kids' pediatricians are great, but we'd prefer not to have the long wait in the office," Emily Auerswald, a 36-year-old patient, told KHN of visiting a Doctors Express to have stitches removed from her foot. "So we come here, and everything seems so much faster."

As a result, some practices have found themselves making big changes to respond to the competition. Todd Wolynn, a physician with Kids+ Pediatrics in Pennsylvania, for example, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was still losing patients to retail and urgent care clinics even after his office added evening and weekend hours, so he ultimately added daily walk-in hours to his office, as well. The reason, he told the newspaper, is that he heard the same refrain over and over from patients: "I don't even want to call for the appointment. We just want to walk in."

To learn more:
- read the story from Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post
- see the article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette