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Urgent care centers are opening across the country, and Florida is no exception, as patients seek medical services delivered quickly, conveniently, and at a lower cost than the emergency department.
They want something that is easy and cheaper than an ED, said Alejandro Badia, MD, Founder of OrthoNOW, an orthopedic urgent care and franchiser based in Doral. “OrthoNOW fills that niche of convenience, cost effectiveness, rapidity and expertise,” Badia mentioned. “A fracture or bad ankle sprain is not a priority in an ER, when that physician is taking care of someone with chest pain or a kid with an asthma attack.”
The Urgent Care Association of America’s benchmark survey reports Florida is one of the top five states for number of urgent care centers. The association’s report issued in January 2017 found a 10% increase in urgent care centers nationwide in 2016, with 7,357 operating in 2016 up from 6,707 in 2015. Ninety-six of the centers saw more patients in 2015 than 2014. The centers report providing nearly 12,000 patient-care visits in 2015, about 32 per day. Respiratory symptoms are among the top reasons for the visits. Ninety percent of centers anticipate additional growth.
The association indicates 39% of urgent care centers are owned by corporate entities, followed by 24% physician owned, 16% joint ventures with a hospital and 15% hospital owned. Eighty-seven percent of the centers exclusively provide urgent or episodic care, with the other 13% also providing on-going primary or specialty care.
Why is urgent care growing?
The Urgent Care Association of America attributes the growth to patients experiencing difficulty getting in to see the primary care physician, ED wait times and crowding, and available financing by private equity firms.
Badia started OrthoNOW in 2010, located above his surgery center, after recognizing a need for orthopedic urgent care.
Patients had to wait for ortho appointments and, typically, after an ED or urgent care visit, they still needed casting or other care. “You need to get the person to the expertise quicker, and that will save money and is what OrthoNOW is doing,” Badia said.
OrthoNOW operates five centers in the Miami area and is currently franchising the orthopedic urgent care centers. It now has locations in Florida and Georgia. Mostly investors have opened the centers, including an ED physician and an orthopedic PA. The centers follow corporate-developed clinical guidelines and policies. Supervising orthopedic surgeons are in close contact with the orthopedic PAs staffing the clinics, which also assess for concussions and care for other sports injuries. The clinics have a range of diagnostic modalities, including MRI, ultrasound and radiography. About 15% of OrthoNOW patients need a procedure, and 25% rehabilitation services.