With a growing population of those with health insurance and a declining population of family physicians across the country, urgent care centers have become a popular option for those looking for last-minute treatment to minor illnesses and injuries.
While a number of businesses focused solely on urgent care have sprung up, health systems across the country and in the Midstate are creating their own walk-in centers to handle the same patients.
Boiling Springs Family Medicine physician Dr. Chad Jumper talked about the trend, the benefits of their presence and the challenges they pose to family doctors.
Q: How have urgent care centers affected how family physicians operate?
A: “Urgent care centers have added an interesting mix of competition and assistance to primary care medicine. I would say some family physicians have added evening and Saturday hours to stay in line with what urgent care centers offer.”
Q: What are the benefits family physicians see with urgent care centers?
A: “I am glad you asked that. It’s not all competition. Urgent care centers can assist by providing care to patients when the family physician cannot—be it during non-traditional hours, when the doctor is on vacation, or when office schedule is full. Urgent care centers traditionally do not try to take patients away from their family physicians. In fact, they do a great job of communicating with the provider and having the patient follow up with their family physician after the urgent care visit.”
Q: What are the challenges?
A: “I would say one of the primary challenges is the continuity of care. Urgent care centers often do not know the patient as well as the family doctor does. This can lead to duplication of testing and treatment, as well as possible medication interactions.”
Q: What difficulties do family physicians have in scheduling last-minute patient visits?
A: “Scheduling last-minute visits can be difficult in busy practices. Changes in insurance regulations and the additional paperwork that family practice offices need to complete ahead of a visit can complicate last-minute visits. Some primary care offices block time in their providers’ schedules to allow for last-minute visits.”
Q: At what point should a patient go to an emergency room instead of a family physician or urgent care center?
A: “It is difficult to give a general answer here, as each patient and condition is unique. However, issues such as chest pain, signs of a stroke, severe dehydration, complicated wounds, or suspected broken bones are traditionally best handled in the emergency room.”