The slumping economy has effected hospitals, many of which are closing, leaving existing overcrowded emergency rooms. Except for the very ill (a heart attack) or a car accident victim, the ER is inefficient and costly for acute care needs.
This has given rise to a boom of urgent care clinics across the country.
Dr. Kenneth Palestrant, a former member of the Board of Directors of the Urgent Care Association of America, states that about 11 years ago there were 3,000 to 4,000 urgent care centers nationally. Today there are 9,000. That number is expected to increase.
Drivers behind the industry's expansion are access to care which will increase under the Affordable Care Act. There appear to be large investment groups pouring money in to urgent care centers, consolidating them into networks. Also, many hospitals are also buying existing centers and funding their own urgent care centers.
During the next five to ten years it is expected that more of the regular care of patients will flow into urgent care centers, now primarily functioning as acute care clinics.
Urgent care centers or clinics provide patients with easy access, rather than waiting in hours' long lines at the emergency room. They also provide affordable pricing and a welcoming comfortable environment. Unlike primary care offices, an urgent care clinic provides on location evaluations, blood draws for lab testing, EKGs, stitches, and X-rays.
Dr. Palestrant has spent more than 30 years in the field of emergency medicine and directs
five urgent care clinics where he employs 80 people on the Treasure Coast of South Florida. He says that his clinics can handle most general and urgent medical problems--abdominal pain, chest pain, etc.. They also contract with specific companies for occupational medicine and workman's comp needs. Complicated medical cases are referred out to specialists in the area.
The number of primary care doctors is declining. This shortage has been ongoing, but will worsen over the next few years. Almost half the nation’s 830,000 physicians
are over age 50, and they are retiring early.
Also, approximately 30 million new enrollees will become part of the new health system under the Affordable Care Act.
Patient waiting time to see a physician will increase. Dr. Palestrant states that already his offices see approximately 20% of patients for primary care. As the Affordable Care Act comes in, he sees more urgent care centers hiring nurse-practitioners and physician-assistants to pick up the gap in primary care.
Dr. Kenneth Palestrant is a former Member of the Board of Directors for the Urgent Care Association of America, the Founder and Medical Director of Physicians Immediate Care.
He is also the former Medical Director of Air Ambulance Company and the Former Director of the St. Lucie Medical Center Emergency Department.