Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Popularity of Urgent Care Retailers Means More Access to Health Care

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TWC News: Popularity of Urgent Care Retailers Means More Access to Health Care
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Urgent care retailers are growing in popularity and prevalence, but they're different from emergency rooms and regular primary care providers. NY1’s health reporter Erin Billups takes a look at how these centers fit into the overall shift in the way health care is delivered here in New York and across the country.

One way to define the shift in how health care is being delivered is accessibility.

"The attitude people have: ‘I don’t want to wait a week to see a doctor. I can’t come back next Thursday morning, I don’t have a sitter,’” said Fred Hyde of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The doctors who founded the urgent care franchise City MD, recognized the need and answered the call four years ago.

"We were actually just pretty frustrated with the delivery care model. We were in the ER, we saw patients waiting eight, nine hours for care. And there was a lot of red tape to delivering care,” said Dr. Ned Shami, City MD’s chief operating officer.

City MD will have 41 retail spaces up and running throughout the City, including their new Medicaid friendly "Heal" locations by the end of this year, and is expected to open another 20 sites next year.

"Our effort is to be an episodic care, first floor access solution to healthcare. We'll see patients from ankle sprains to sore throats, to headaches, but the point is they want immediate access and if they need a higher level of care, we're there to direct them,” said Dr. Shami.

There are many other urgent care facilities popping up all over the place.

Health care management expert Fred Hyde says these retail chains are helping to, in part, answer our country's increasingly complex healthcare needs. But it's important to know where they fit in.

"They’re affordable even if you don’t have any insurance, but you have to have something when you walk in. They have no legal obligation to take care of people who are indigent. They are not equipped to take care of people with complex, urgent needs,” said Hyde.

Hyde says hospitals will continue to play that role, but in new ways.

"They’re saying, ‘How can we make what we’re doing a little bit smaller, a little bit more accessible, certainly less expensive, but not lose the definitive care?’” he said.

As a result we're seeing standalone emergency departments crop up, like North Shore LIJ's Healthplex. But the expectation of the industry and health reforms is that people will use ERs and urgent care facilities sparingly, managing their health mainly through their primary care provider.

But the infrastructure is not there yet.

"In our lower income areas, we don’t have private doctors. A doctor who can make a dollar seeing a commercial patient, can make 29 cents seeing a Medicaid patient,” said Hyde.

It's still unclear whether these shifts in health care delivery will actually lead to a healthier New York.

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