Are urgent care centers hurting America’s family medicine practices?

Urgent care centers are popping up all over the United States, and they can be a great choice for prompt medical attention for medical issues like a fever, twisted ankle, pink eye, a skin infection, an earache or the flu. But, are urgent care centers affecting family doctors and their practices?

Are family doctors feeling the impact of the prevalence of urgent care centers in the U.S.?

Patients want quick access to health care when they need it — especially if they are ill. Urgent care centers are an accessible way to see a doctor with little or no advance notice needed.

Are family doctors feeling the pain because of urgent care centers? Some experts say they are.

“Yes, currently, many primary care doctors are overwhelmed with demand,” Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, global chief medical officer at AI and digital health platform Babylon, tells FOX Business. “It can take months to see a primary care doctor in most major cities. Urgent care centers can be a nice way to supplement appointments with your primary care provider, depending on the patient’s needs.”


Sanghavi says the main issue is making sure that the urgent care centers pass along medical records and information to primary care doctors.

“Without communication between urgent care and primary care providers, patient information can get lost and their care structures can become fragmented,” Sanghavi says.

Why do patients pick an urgent care center over their family doctor?

Ultimately it comes down to accessibility, says Sanghavi.

“Urgent care centers are accessible and often have on-site labs and X-rays to assist many common conditions,” he says. “So, they are extremely convenient.”

Do patients want a more personal relationship with their doctor or for certain urgent medical needs is an urgent care center adequate?

According to Sanghavi, while personal relationships are important for people with more serious conditions, many patients really just want the convenience of care, which is what urgent care provides.

“It’s more important to be seen by a doctor at your earliest convenience than to wait for one with whom you have a relationship,” Sanghavi says.

What benefits do patients reap from urgent care centers?

Convenience and not having to make an appointment are benefits that patients gain by going to an urgent care clinic.

“Due to the shortages of PCPs, the urgent care centers have allowed patients to be seen for acute issues, thus allowing the PCP office to continue to manage patients at a reasonable rate and pace,” says Dr. Ashish V. Rana, medical advisory board member of Sermo, a social media platform for physicians. Rana also serves as the internal medicine program director and associate chair of academic medicine at Crozer Health in Pennsylvania.

Rana says patients may pick an urgent care center as it can allow for immediate access to care whereas a PCP’s office usually will have a longer time to see an appointment schedule, which doesn’t satisfy the patient’s immediate medical need.


What can family doctors do to deal with this trend? 

To attract patients to their practices, Rana says a family doctor should consider the following: 

Creative scheduling that allows for an “open” appointment in both the morning and afternoon sessions, thus allowing for access to care, he says.

Hire physician extenders, says Rana, as they are less expensive than a doctor, which allows them more flexibility to see urgent-care type patients.


What about personal patient attention? 

The issue at hand is whether patients seek a medical relationship with their doctor, or if for certain medical issues an urgent care center is adequate. 

“It’s interesting — if you ask patients this question, they tend to voice that they want convenience most in getting health care,” says Dr. Allison Edwards, a family medical physician and medical director of health care marketplace Sesame. On Sesame, doctors list their services with a distinct price and consumers can search for a doctor they want to see, read reviews of the doctor, and “buy” the appointment.

“However, if you start to peel away the layers of their health care journey, you’ll find that almost every person has a very meaningful story where a specific doctor took great care of them. Or they’ll share a story about a doctor who cared for their family for years, or they’ll generally divulge that they really resonated with a specific doctor at some point in their care journey, which belies that while people, on the surface, do want convenience, there’s still a very primal desire to connect with a person when you’re in a vulnerable moment in your health journey.”

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