More Urgent Care Centers Coming to Arkansas

by Mark Friedman  on Monday, Jul. 22, 2013 12:00 am  

Dr. John McLean, an owner of Velocity Care of Shreveport, said he sees adding more locations in central Arkansas if its Little Rock center is successful. (Photo by Mauren Kennedy)

In June, Velocity Care of Shreveport opened an urgent care center in west Little Rock, making it the latest entry in a market niche that has been slow to develop in Arkansas but is rapidly expanding.

Urgent care clinics are touted as a lower-priced alternative to hospital emergency rooms for procedures that are not life-threatening.

Patients suffering heart attacks, strokes or other major trauma still should be rushed to the nearest ER. But for relatively minor injuries — a simple bone fracture or a cut that needs stitches — the cost of being treated at an urgent care facility is a fraction of what it would be at a hospital, said Alan Ayers, a board member of the Urgent Care Association of America.

Being treated for a urinary tract infection or strep throat might cost $300 to $600 at an emergency room; it could be handled at an urgent care center for $95 to $135, he said.

In the last few years, about 500 urgent care centers have opened annually, bringing the total to 9,000 in the United States, Ayers said.

More urgent care centers are expected to be opened when millions more Americans become insured under the Affordable Care Act, which requires individuals to have health insurance by Jan. 1 or face financial penalties.

Dr. John McLean of Shreveport, an owner of Velocity Care, said that if the Little Rock location is successful, he could see adding three or four more centers in central Arkansas in the near future. But he doesn’t have a timetable for when the locations would be added.

Also in the market is Dr. Chad Sherwood of Searcy, who along with WellNow Urgent Care of Nashville, Tenn., is an owner of the Sherwood Urgent Center, which has six locations in Arkansas.

Sherwood said last week that he plans to add locations in the Cabot, Maumelle and Russellville areas by the end of the year.

“It’s definitely, I think, the future of acute care and primary care medicine,” Sherwood said. “There’s going to be a lot of them that pop up, but a lot of them are going to close their doors as quickly after they pop up too.”

It’s still unclear, though, what impact the urgent care centers have had on health care costs.

A study released July 11 showed it was difficult to tell if urgent care centers saved money by diverting patients from emergency rooms or increased costs by attracting patients from the offices of primary care physicians, where treatment can be even cheaper.



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