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Urgent Care Centers Leading the Way In Healthcare but Many Need Improvements In IT Capabilities

November 30, 2015
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Urgent care clinics have become one of the most convenient, affordable, and efficient methods of meeting healthcare needs in the United States today. In the U.S. alone, there are over 6,800 walk in medical centers, most of which are located in freestanding buildings.

Urgent care centers have helped take a lot of the burden from overcrowded hospitals and emergency rooms, but are still lagging a bit behind when it comes to their IT and information-sharing capabilities, according to the healthcare news source Healthdatamanagement.com.

One 2010 study by the Rand Corporation found that nearly one in five hospital ER visits could be treated at urgent care centers, potentially saving $4.4 billion annually in healthcare costs.

The fact of the matter is that more and more healthcare providers are utilizing new technologies in the form of things like electronic health records that can be easily shared, accessed, and kept by patients and their providers. This allows a much more efficient and convenient way for different providers to know exactly what previous ailments and treatments a person has had so they can more accurately identify, diagnose, and treat them going forward.

According to Steven Berkowitz, M.D., principal at SMB Healthcare Consulting, which specializes in strategic planning, urgent care facilities need to adapt to and embrace this most recent form of healthcare service.

“It’s important for centers to implement a state of the art information system,” Berkowitz said. “The ability for centers to communicate with other providers and insurance companies will make a big difference for them.”

So far, the affordability and convenience of these locations has helped this trend explode over the last few years. Estimates from one study found that the typical emergency department visit costs an average of $1,500, while treatment at an urgent care center costs, on average, under $150.

A recent study for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, conducted by VMG Health, a financial evaluation and advisory firm, found evidence that supports these estimates.

In their study the average cost of a visit to a retail clinic was about $80, for a primary care physician and urgent care visit it was $130 and a visit to the hospital or emergency room will run you $650 on average.

While many of the smaller, stand-alone urgent care clinics lag behind when it comes to EHRs, the majority of larger, chain-type centers have these capabilities.

Our very own founder and CEO, Bruce Irwin, M.D., was even quoted in the piece for his first-hand experience in buying up many of these smaller centers.

“Less than 40% of them have any EHR at all; they’re all still on pen and paper,” Irwin said. He also added that most only have a practice management system for insurance billing purposes.

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