It’s midnight and you wake up with a stabbing earache. Or you’re suffering an indescribable stomach pain. It’s not so bad that you need to see a doctor now, but you’re still worried about it.
Twenty years ago, the next logical step would have been to trek out to the local emergency room —a feat both time-consuming and costly. Today’s patient, though, is likely turn to an urgent care center for medical attention.
A convenient middle ground between the ER and scheduling a visit with your primary doctor — where wait times for an appointment only seem to grow — more and more people are frequenting urgent care centers, where patients can be treated for anything ranging from sore throats to minor lacerations requiring stitches. And on Long Island, business is booming.
“There has definitely been an increase in the number of urgent care centers that have been opening up around the area,” said Dr. Gerard Brogan, executive director of Huntington Hospital.
North Shore-LIJ Health System, of which Huntington Hospital is a member, has jumped into the business of urgent care centers themselves. The system announced last November that it was opening 50 GoHealth Urgent Care centers in the New York-metropolitan area over the next three years.
The centers, which are open on nights and weekends, serve as a “portal of entry” into the health system’s 18 hospitals and more than 400 outpatient physician practices throughout New York City, Long Island and Westchester County, according to a news release announcing the initiative last year.
“People are busy. They really don’t want to wait a long time to be seen and cared for. As long as the care is of high quality — whether it’s in urgent care centers or the ER fast track — it really doesn’t matter, as long as they’re getting the right care at the right time and it’s part of a coordinated comprehensive primary care program.” — Dr. Gerard Brogan, executive director of Huntington Hospital
Brogan said the rise of urgent care is a “recent phenomena” on Long Island, as much of the country has already seen this boom. At Huntington Hospital, the facility’s “fast track” area in the ER serves as an urgent care center, offering the same convenient hours centers do, but with the backup of an entire hospital. The hospital added this service to its medical repertoire about seven years ago, he said.
“The patients want that,” Brogan said. “People are busy. They really don’t want to wait a long time to be seen and cared for. As long as the care is of high quality — whether it’s in urgent care centers or the ER fast track — it really doesn’t matter, as long as they’re getting the right care at the right time and it’s part of a coordinated comprehensive primary care program.”
Convenience and an increased need in the marketplace is why urgent care centers have grown nationally, according to Dr. William Gluckman, of FastER Urgent Care in Morris Plains, New Jersey. Urgent care isn’t a new thing, though — the concept has been around for 20 years, and many of these facilities are mom-and-pop operated. “I would say we’ve certainly seen a large boom in growth nationally and locally in the northeast over the last five years,” he said.
A downside Brogan said he could see with the proliferation of urgent care centers is when patients use them in lieu of primary care, missing out on important health screenings, for example, “that would be very important to maintaining high quality, cost effective care,” Brogan said.
At GoHealth, patients of the North Shore-LIJ Health System stay within their network, meaning the various hospitals and doctors all communicate with one another, no matter where the patient goes for service, Brogan said.
Urgent care centers aren’t looking to be the next primary doctor, though. Calvin Hwang, of CityMD, which operates 16 urgent care centers on Long Island, said the company would be at 54 locations by this year, which include the five boroughs and New Jersey. Hwang, who is the first non-physician executive of CityMD, said the urgent care company urges patients to find a “medical home” in a primary care physician.
“We’re not trying to take over primary care groups,” he said. “They do feel that we’re taking their patients away and they’re threatened by us. We’re actually trying to make them more efficient. And the same thing with ERs. We’re trying to make them more efficient. We believe that urgent care has a role in the overall medical care system.”
Urgent care isn’t going away anytime soon — the market is growing, especially on Long Island, he said. CityMD will see more than one million patients this year, he said.
Asked how he sees urgent care transforming in the future, Hwang said he felt even the word “urgent” would get redefined, conforming to the needs of the customer. It could mean video chatting via cell phone with a doctor to see if something’s okay.
“The way the millenials [are] consuming health care is completely changing,” he said. “It’s going to evolve.”