CHS opens urgent care next door to primary care
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - While patients may seek out the facility after falls and mishaps, the location of Carolinas Healthcare System's new urgent care center - the network's first in Rowan County - is no accident. The walk-in center is scheduled to open Monday at 340 Jake Alexander Boulevard West next to SouthPoint Internal Medicine, another new CHS medical facility. The proximity will make it easier for the healthcare network to link up urgent care patients who don't have a regular doctor with the CHS primary care physicians next door. On average, about a third of patients who come to CHS urgent care centers lack a regular doctor, network spokesman Phil Whitesell said. "We find out that lot of people don't have a primary care physician, and we highly encourage them to establish a good relationship with one," said Stephen Jones, vice president of CHS Carolinas Physicians Network Urgent Care Division. Whitesell could not provide the network's conversion rate - the percentage of those patients who go on to become patients of CHS physicians. But CHS administrators are hoping a good number of people who show up at the new Salisbury urgent care without a regular doctor with leave with one of theirs. For any health-care network, connecting an urgent care patient with a primary care physician could mean a lifelong healthcare consumer, from annual physicals to specialist visits to hospital stays. Co-locating the two facilities on in the Pinnacle Office Park on Jake Alexander Boulevard is part of CHS' effort to expand primary care and urgent care in connection with Carolinas Medical Center-Northeast, the CHS hospital in Concord, Jones said. The new urgent care is one of several facilities CHS has opened in or near Rowan County in the past eight months, kicked off by the launch in January of CMC-Kannapolis, a freestanding emergency department just off Interstate 85 exit 63. CMC-Kannapolis is about 12 miles from the urgent care and SouthPoint. In addition to primary care physicians, CHS plans to add three specialties at SouthPoint in the coming months - dermatology, rheumatology and endocrinology. A branch of Cabarrus Family Medicine opened in China Grove on Aug. 27. That bumps up the total of CHS facilities in or near Rowan from one to five over a short period. Whitesell could not provide CHS' market share or number of patients in Rowan County. Prior to the new openings, Dr. Lloyd Nickerson's Cabarrus Family Medicine practice in Spencer was the only CHS-owned clinic in Rowan. CHS has opened four new urgent care centers in less than a year, including locations in Shelby, Belmont, Salisbury and Blakeney. "CHS is seeing the opportunity to provide continuing access to consumers with quality care, convenience and accessbility," Jones said. Urgent care centers are efficient and generally more cost-effective than emergency departments. They also provide a good value to employers by offering occupational health services and physicals and drugs screens for prospective employees, Jones said. The CHS location is the fourth urgent care center in Salisbury. The Schumacher Group opened Rowan Urgent Care Center last year in the former RoMedical location on Lincolnton Road, and First Care Medical Clinic opened earlier this month on West Innes Street. ProMed Minor Emergency Center has operated for 25 years on West Innes Street.
Across the country, an estimated three million patients visit urgent care centers each week, according to the Urgent Care Association of America, a trade group based in Chicago. The number of facilities increased from 8,000 in 2008 to more than 9,200 in 2011, the association said. When the federal health law begins to expand health coverage to 32 million Americans in 2014, urgent care centers are expected to attract even more patients. The growth spurt for the urgent care industry began in the mid-1990s, fueled by patients' frustration over long waits in the emergency room and a reduction in available primary care appointments, according to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine. "The public's desire for immediate access to medical care has been the driving force behind this monumental growth," the academy said. Most urgent care centers are open later than doctor's offices, including weekends and holidays. The wait time to see a provider is typically a half-hour or less, and urgent care centers often offer imaging and other services not found in retail outlets, the academy said. Co-payments, or the amount the patient pays out of pocket, for urgent care are significantly lower than those for an emergency room visit. The average co-pay for an urgent care visit typically ranges from $30 to $50, Whitesell said, while the average co-pay for an ER visit is typically $100 to $200. "So if a patient can be treated at an urgent care vs. an emergency department, the cost to the patient is much less," he said. The new CHS urgent care is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. No appointment is necessary, and patients with an emergency can be transfered to CMC-Kannapolis, he said. Although patients in a life-or-death situation will go to the nearest hospital, said Colleen Rhyant, director of Urgent Care North Division. The urgent care center is chartless and x-rays are digital, with a computer in every room for the use of electronic medical records, Rhyant said. "This provides great care coordination for the patient to the CHS system," Jones said. Initially, the center will be able to see between 25 and 35 patients per day with a board-certified physician on each shift and plans to increase staff as demand warrants, Whitesell said. The urgent care will take patients with Medicaid and Medicare.CHS offers a smart phone application that shows wait times at all CHS emergency departments and urgent care centers. The times are also available at www.CHSwaittimes.org . Dr. Benjamin F. Simmons III will be the lead physician at the new urgent care, which has four exam rooms and two treatment rooms in its 3,668-square-foot space. Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.