It’s not your family doctor’s office and it’s not an emergency room – the Temple Health ReadyCare center in Jenkintown, Pa. is something in between.
The Montgomery County medical facility is Temple’s newest urgent care center providing an alternative to the ER for less critical medical issues -- and in most cases, with a shorter wait.
“They are able to do more things than the average primary care office, but yet not require the services of an emergency room and compete for the time and attention of the physicians,” says Temple Physicians Inc. Chief Executive Officer Dr. Marc Hurowitz.
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Dr. Hurowitz says the centers are designed to patients of all ages for non-acute injuries like broken bones, burns and other wounds, upper respiratory infections and more. These are all injuries that require a doctor’s care, but may not rise to the need of immediate attention. The centers can also provide minor surgical care like stitches and draining abscesses.
The ReadyCare center has similar features to an emergency room. At least one doctor is always on duty in the location in addition to a nurse and radiology technician.
“We believe a physician-run level of care, unlike some of the MinuteClinics, provide that right level of care in between primary care and the emergency department,” Dr. Hurowitz says.
A triage room is used to diagnose patient problems and an in-house lab can process urine, strep and flu tests. Blood work is collected on-site and sent to an outside lab for processing. An X-ray room can quickly scan for a fracture.
Irina Ivleva, Temple Physicians Regional Director who oversees the centers, says doctors can take a “wet read” or quick analysis of the x-ray scans before they’re sent electronically to Temple’s radiology department. There, a radiologist will make a final determination and send the results back to the center. Patients can then go home with the scans on CD so they can bring them back to their primary care doctor.
Temple has three urgent care locations – Jenkintown, Northeast Philadelphia and Port Richmond – with a fourth opening this summer in Fort Washington.
Ivleva says Jenkintown opened in April and typically sees up to 15 patients a day. The Northeast Philadelphia location opened on December 31, 2012 and sees 20-35 people a day.
Up to 60 patients a day are seen at the Port Richmond center, which has been around for four years, according to Ivleva.
Dr. Ben Kochuveli, a family care physician on duty at the Jenkintown ReadyCare center, says the Port Richmond location is more like a mini-ER since there’s a lack of emergency care in that community.
“ERs are either closing or shrinking so these types of facilities offer people an alternative,” he said. “In some instances, it’s a source of primary care for those who do not have access to an emergency room.”
Offering walk-in care, these locations are open extended hours – until 8 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on weekends – and operate every day except for Christmas. They operate on a retail-like mentality says Ivleva.
“Our centers are great for the working population,” she said. “Someone can come in at 7:55 at night and we will still treat them, even though we close at 8 o’clock.”
Temple Health officials say the clinics are not meant to replace a primary care doctor, instead offer another avenue for care.
“The fear of a lot of primary care doctors is that we take away their patients. We don’t,” says Ivleva. “We always refer the patients back to their primary care doctor after a visit.”
Dr. Hurowitz sees family doctors focusing on preventive medicine, health maintenance and immunizations with the urgent care centers as a good alternative for acute care.
Facilities like these are growing across the country. The Urgent Care Association of America says there are more than 8,700 urgent care centers in the United States where more than 160 million patients are treated every year.
Einstein Heath, Drexel Medicine and Aria Health all have similar care centers. Aria Health, the major health system in Northeast Philadelphia, recently opened its first FastCare Clinic in the Torresdale section of Philadelphia.
Located inside the ShopRite at Morrell Plaza, Aria’s concept offers treatment for certain infections, flu, immunizations and some lab tests. They also offer physicals by nurse practitioners.
Aria Health Senior Director of Marketing Maria Cerceo Slade says patients can grocery shop as they wait to be seen. A buzzer, like those seen in restaurant-waiting areas, will notify people when they can be seen.
Aria also plans to open another location in Levittown, Bucks County later this year.
Temple’s Jenkintown center is an expansion outside the health system’s typical northern Philadelphia footprint, landing right in the backyard of Abington Memorial Hospital.
Linda Millevoi, director of media relations for Abington Health, says it’s too early to know whether urgent care centers will affect traffic at their emergency trauma center. She says the health system does not currently have urgent care locations, rather a network of primary care doctors.
“At Abington Health, we are constantly exploring new and changing models of care to better serve our community,” she said. “In the meantime, we have a very large network of primary care physicians, many of whom are open in the evenings and on Saturdays to provide access to our patients.”
Besides offering more convenient care, the urgent care centers can cut down on costs for patients, insurers and health care providers. The Urgent Care Association of America estimates urgent care centers can reduce medical costs by at least $7.2 billion a year as patients choose these locations over emergency rooms.
Dr. Hurowitz says Temple has negotiated coverage by most of the area’s major insurers.
“For those whose insurances cover it, I think it’s a viable alternative. For those patients pay out of pocket or need to use their own resources, it’s significantly less expensive than the care that they would be charged for in the emergency rooms.”
Looking a health plans from Independence Blue Cross, one of the largest insurers in the region, co-pays for in-network urgent care centers were $30 less than an emergency room visit. However, costs are higher than visiting a primary care doctor.
While these types of health facilities may be the next generation in neighborhood medicine, Dr. Kochuveli says nothing is ever forever in medicine.
“What may be big one day, can change the next.”