June 14, 2007

Urgent Care Clinics Utilized to Decrease Wait Times, Patients

By Ginger Shepherd

A trip to the emergency room is undesirable by nature, but coupled with typically long wait times, the experience can be unnerving.

St. John Medical Center sees more than 60,000 patients a year. A non-emergency patient may wait anywhere from two to eight hours to be seen and treated at an emergency room, said Dr. Jason Lepak, president of Magnum Health Care, which oversees St. John's Urgent Care Centers.

That's why medical centers are utilizing urgent care clinics to service non-emergency patients. Urgent care facilities are aimed at providing quicker care to non-emergency patients and lowering the number of patients in the emergency room.

An urgent care clinic provides hours longer than those of physicians' offices and addresses injuries for which one may have sought care at an emergency room - such as fractures, high fever and minor cuts and lacerations.

St. John opened an urgent care facility in January on Utica Avenue and recently opened a second clinic in South Tulsa, he said. A third clinic is planned in Sand Springs next year.

Magnum Vice President Dr. Todd Hoffman said the goal is to reduce a patient's wait and treatment time to about an hour.

Since opening the Utica clinic, the average patient time is 64 minutes, Hoffman said. He said treatment time can vary depending on the case.

Urgent care clinics are market-driven and are opened when it is believed they will be financially successful, said Dr. Ethan Warlick, medical director for St. Francis Children's Hospital Urgent Care.

In addition to the children's urgent care facility, St. Francis also oversees the Warren Clinic urgent care center.

Insurance companies are also seeing an increase in the use of urgent care clinics, said Chad Friesen, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma spokesman. Part of that increase is due to member education.

As a rule, the insurance industry encourages members to seek the appropriate health care, he said. However, it costs patients about same to go to an urgent care clinic as it does to go their primary care physician.

An emergency room visit can cost more, Friesen said.

(c) 2007 Journal Record - Oklahoma City. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.