Experts say there are four main reasons more walk-in or urgent care health facilities are opening in the region: doctors find them profitable, insurance companies prefer them to hospital visits, patients enjoy the easy scheduling and savings and health care networks like the ability to refer patients within their group.
The state Department of Health doesn’t have separate licenses for urgent care facilities so tracking with precision the number that have opened in recent years is difficult.
But it’s clear from talking with those in the health care industry and with owners of urgent care companies that the past decade has been a boom for the facilities.
In Southington, a 203 Urgent Care opened last summer at 826 Queen St. Since the company’s founding in 2009, it’s opened ten locations.
“We definitely have grown over the past couple of years,” said Jessi Dwy, Southington location manager.
With less waiting time and at less cost than at a hospital, patients can get injections, physicals and X-rays.
“They can come here and be seen in 45 minutes and leave,” Dwy said.
While there are a host of other urgent care facilities on Queen Street and a Hartford HealthCare GoHealth Urgent Care opening across the street from Dwy’s facility, she said there’s been no lack of patients.
“The demand is definitely there,” she said.
This month, a MedExpress opened at 875 E. Main St. in Meriden. Hartford Healthcare, the parent company of MidState Medical Center, is opening a health care center at 498 S. Broad St. this year. In 2014, orthopedic urgent care locations opened in Southington and Wallingford. In 2013, Health Med Urgent Care opened at 1257 South Broad St. in Wallingford.
John Yaylagul, an emergency room certified doctor, said profit is drawing doctors and hospitals to start urgent care practices. Patients looking for cheaper health care options know they’ll pay less at an urgent care than if they go to a hospital emergency room.
Yaylagul and a fellow emergency room doctor started Velocity Urgent Care, which has a location at 365 Queen St. in Southington as well as a branch in Rocky Hill.
“There’s a lot of resources that are used in the ER that are quite expensive and they take a lot of physician and nursing time,” Yaylagul said.
While the Affordable Care Act led to an increase in the number of insured patients, many of them still have deductibles of $5,000 or $10,000.
“You go to an ER with a high deductible plan like that, even though you’re getting the insurance discount, you’re still getting the ER prices,” Yaylagul said.
A broken wrist, for example, might involve an X-ray, splint and follow-up X-ray. With an emergency medicine specialist at an urgent care facility, that’ll cost $300 or $400.
“All that is going to cost you not less than $2,500 dollars, even with the insurance discount” at an emergency room, Yaylagul said.
Urgent care might not always save a patient money, though. Yaylagul said doctors with no emergency medicine training are opening urgent care facilities and have to send patients to the ER anyway.
“That defeats the purpose,” he said. “You’re paying twice.”
Yaylagul urged patients to research a clinic’s doctors. He’s concerned that serious conditions might be missed by doctors with specialized training in some areas, but none in emergency medicine.
Kirsten Jones, GoHealth Market President for Connecticut, said the group has joint ventures with health care networks around the country. Growth in urgent care is a nation-wide trend.
“We have noticed an uptick in all our competitors going into all the markets we’re in,” Jones said.
Insurance companies are encouraging the trend since they want patients going to urgent care facilities rather than more expensive hospitals.
Jones said partnering with Hartford Healthcare gives them a recognizable name to patients in the area. Hospitals in the network can also refer patients to GoHealth, which can in turn refer patients to doctors or specialists in the network. It also means that records can easily transfer from one facility to another. Not all urgent care companies have electronic medical records, Jones said, although GoHealth does.
“(Patients) are able to have an effortless experience,” she said.
The company has opened three locations in Connecticut and has plans for eight more, including the Southington facility.
Angela Mattie, a professor of business and medicine at Quinnipiac University, said with the spread of urgent care facilities, patients should be informed as to what they should and shouldn’t expect. Chest pains, she said, warrant a trip to the emergency room.
“There has to be some education with the public on when it’s appropriate to use urgent care,” Mattie said.
An advantage of urgent care is the ease of scheduling.
“The consumer is demanding more convenience,” Mattie said. “You don’t have to take time in your lunch hour to schedule an appointment. You can go in on hours that are convenient for you.”
Dwy said she’s found that first-time patients are often just looking for the office that can treat them quickest.
“It’s not like people really look for a place to go. They want the care as soon as they need it,” she said.
But if patients are going to return or recommend a facility, they need to have a good experience.
“It just depends on the attitude on the medical assistants, the providers,” she said. “As far as ever going back, that’s what sets us apart.”