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Does Urgent Care Decrease Low-Acuity Emergency Department Visits?

October 21, 2019

Written by Clay Smith

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Opening urgent care (UC) locations may have a small impact on reducing low-acuity ED volume for patients living near the UC.

Why does this matter?
ED overcrowding is a problem. It is estimated that up to 25% of low-acuity ED visits could be seen in an alternative care setting. Health systems are opening UCs and retail clinic locations to accommodate patients and possibly reduce overall healthcare costs for the system. But does this have a meaningful impact on patient behavior? Do patients still go to the ED for low-acuity medical issues?

Urgent care issues
This was a retrospective analysis of the impact of UC locations within a single health system on low-acuity ED volume at two academic medical centers. Using multiple variable logistic regression, patients living within 1 mile of one of the UC locations had reduced likelihood of going to the ED for a low-acuity visit at one of the medical centers (aOR 0.87, 95%CI 0.78-0.98) but not the other. They also found that the longer the UC location was open, the lower the likelihood of a low-acuity ED visit.

Impact of Urgent Care Openings on Emergency Department Visits to Two Academic Medical Centers Within an Integrated Health Care System. Ann Emerg Med. 2019 Sep 9. pii: S0196-0644(19)30534-7. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2019.06.024. [Epub ahead of print]

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Reviewed by Thomas Davis

What are your thoughts?