The role of the urgent-care clinic is a relatively new wrinkle in the history of American medicine, but the service – providing treatment for non-threatening medical situations in a facility away from hospital emergency rooms – is continuing to evolve and grow in the current health-care landscape.
Urgent care, which the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine says fills the gap in health care that exists between the general practitioner and the emergency room, began as an alternative to traditional medical treatment and has expanded its services to provide a bona fide – and less costly -- alternative to heading to the emergency room for any scratch or bump.
There are now an estimated 10,000 urgent care facilities in the country, including the SmartCare Urgent Care Clinic at 1480 Baxter St. at the Alps Road Shopping Center. The clinic, one of six operated by Atlanta-based SmartCare, sees some 9,000 patients a year. The clinic is open seven days a week and is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. on the weekends.
Why urgent care?
There are myriad reasons to visit an urgent care facility, with convenience and cost at the top of the list. It’s not necessary to make an appointment nor is it likely a patient will have to wait long to be seen by a medical professional. And perhaps most important of all, hospital emergency rooms won’t be clogged by patients who don’t need to be there.
“The main thing for urgent care is it’s a walk-in clinic,” says Shlok Shah, marketing specialist with SmartCare. “If you’re not feeling well one morning, you can just go in and you’ll be seen pretty quickly and we’ll be able to take care of you then and there.
“A lot of times, people will feel sick for a long time and they’re not able to get an appointment with their primary care doctor or they don’t have one, so they’ll think their only option is the emergency room. But urgent care has become a good alternative to that (in) non-life-threatening situations. And it’s cheaper than the emergency room, whether you’re paying out of pocket or you have insurance.”
Shah also points out that urgent care facilities have won favor with young people on a variety of fronts.
“More and more people are using urgent care and part of that is because there’s a younger crowd, and not a lot of them have primary care doctors because they’re at the age where they just don’t need to regularly see a doctor,” he says. “Then when they do need care, urgent care is usually local and it’s easy to book an appointment or just show up, and it’s cost-effective, as opposed to going through the process of trying to find a primary care doctor.”
According to UrgentCareLocations.com, the average cost of a visit to an urgent care facility is $71 to $125 (as opposed to the average price of a trip to the emergency room, which is $1,318, not including an ambulance ride) and the average length of stay is between 15 and 45 minutes (as opposed to a 2.5-hour wait time in the emergency room).
Urgent care has become such a prevalent fixture in communities that many hospitals are now establishing their own urgent care facilities.
From broken bones to pink eye
SmartCare was established in 2013 to meet the demand for immediate high-quality health care in the metro Atlanta area. Although SmartCare staff don’t treat life-threatening injuries or illnesses, the list of maladies that are treatable is long and significant, spanning from cuts, minor burns and sports injuries to the flu, bronchitis, asthma and even swimmer’s ear.
“There’s a wide range of things we do,” says Shah. “Fractures, lacerations, and we can stitch people up if we need to. We also run tests – if you need STD tests, blood tests or vaccinations, SmartCare can handle that so you don’t have to schedule it with your primary health care provider. There’s quite a variety of what we’re able to do.”
Sports physicals and pre-employment physicals and testing are also offered. For the full list of treatments available at SmartCare, visit www.smartcareuc.com.
If a patient’s condition calls for a follow-up with a physician, SmartCare staff can make referrals to some of the best in the area as the company is affiliated with the Emory Healthcare Network.
“If it’s something we just don’t have the tools or equipment to handle, like a follow-up with a heart doctor or something more complicated, we’ll refer you to somebody in our network,” says Shah. “Smart care is linked with Emory, so we’re plugged into that network and we can refer you to Emory doctors, who will immediate access to the files of SmartCare patients.”
Filling the gaps
In light of the Washington-induced changes in health insurance requirements and opportunities, NBC News reported in June that some insurance providers are advising their customers to eschew the emergency room and visit an urgent care clinic instead with non-threatening conditions. In fact, one provider informed its customers that if an emergency room visit not requiring emergency treatment is reported, the customer will be on the hook for the full cost.
Shah says the advent of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) led to an increase in patient visits to urgent care clinics.
“It’s leveled out in the sense that before, people came to us because they didn’t have insurance, and urgent care was a good alternative,” he says. “But now that they have insurance, many are able to have primary care physicians and regularly see them. At the same time, people who weren’t going to urgent care because they didn’t have insurance and had to pay out of pocket, will come to urgent care because there’s a convenience there.”
Regardless of what the future holds for health care in America, SmartCare is there to help.
“The role of an urgent care clinic is to fill the gaps in receiving medical care,” says Shah. “Whether or not more people are insured with Trumpcare, or if people lose their insurance, we’ll be able to help them either way. If they lose their insurance, they’re going to need to see somebody at a reasonable price and we can provide that service without having to spend a huge amount on getting care.”
For more information about the SmartCare Urgent Care Clinic in Athens, call 706-543-0228.
Good2Know content is quality content, written by professional writers and sponsored by local advertisers. Click here for more information about Good2Know content.