Urgent care centers and retail clinics are rapidly emerging within the health care system — a partial response to rising health care costs and a possible flood of new demand for care as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. The number of patient visits to retail health clinics grew by 1,000 percent in just the last two years, according to a RAND Health study.
Studies also indicate about 17 percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments (EDs) across the nation could be treated at alternative care settings, such as retail medical clinics or urgent care centers. The cost of treating patients with non-emergent conditions in EDs is much higher than in alternative settings — with respect to patients’ out-of-pocket costs and overall U.S. total health spending. With a potential of $4.4 billion in annual health care savings, efforts to divert unnecessary ED admissions are gaining momentum in a time when health spending is particularly high.
Can savings and improved access to care be produced through alternative care settings? Will these settings reduce emergency room use for primary care? Do they have the potential to ease the shortage of primary care providers? Who is monitoring the quality of care being delivered at these centers? What about continuity of care and care management?
To answer these important questions and related ones, the Alliance for Health Reform and WellPoint, Inc. sponsored a June 18 briefing.
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