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Urgent-care centers make their presence known in midstate

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AspireCARE is an independent practice in Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County.
AspireCARE is an independent practice in Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County. - (Photo / )

Access to medical care that is quick, convenient and affordable is in high demand these days. As urgent-care centers have popped up in Central Pennsylvania over the past decade, patients today have different expectations for a trip to the doctor — and local doctors are figuring out how to meet them.

According to a 2015 report from Staff Care, convenient-care clinics began popping up nationally about 15 years ago. As services offered and payment options expanded, the centers became more popular. Large companies began acquiring them to increase access to and the efficiency of this developing form of affordable care, the report said.

Today, convenient care centers make up a visible sector of the region’s health care offerings. Many urgent-care centers, like Concentra, Patient First, and AllBetterCare, all of which have locations in Central Pennsylvania and nationwide, are owned by larger corporate affiliates, according to the Staff Care report. Retail clinics, like CVS’s MinuteClinic, have also expanded. PinnacleHealth’s FastCare clinics in some area Giant Food Stores are a local take on the retail model.

Independent physicians aren’t being left behind.

The Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania , for example, began accepting patients on a walk-in basis about five years ago, adding extra staff and open hours accordingly. Instead of going to the emergency room for an injury, where wait times can be long and costs high, patients can come to the practice’s Camp Hill and Harrisburg offices. There, they experience shorter waits, lower costs and more direct, convenient access to treatment, said Michael Manley, the institute’s practice administrator, said. As a result of the policy change, the practice has seen more patients, he said.

Other local independent practices, like AspireCARE in Lower Paxton Township, Dauphin County, also have made walk-ins a core component of their care models.

Dr. David White launched AspireCARE with Dr. Richard Rayner in fall 2009, as urgent care was just starting to emerge in the area. Their goal was to fill the gap between primary care and urgent care with a practice that offered both, while still respecting the relationship between patients and their existing health providers.

“What we really wanted to do is to say to the primary care providers in the region, ‘We really respect what you do … We think it’s essential and critical to taking care of people well’ … We want to supplement what the primary care providers are doing,” White said.

From the primary care perspective, the Orthopedic Institute values the supplemental nature of urgent care centers.

“We find them to be a great resource for our patients who have medical problems. If we have someone who had surgery, but over the weekend develops nausea vomiting or fever etc., and needs a medical evaluation, we frequently use the expertise offered by our local urgent clinics,” Manley said.

At Tan & Garcia Pediatrics P.C., the relationship is similar. While its two offices, in Lower Paxton Township and Camp Hill and don’t currently accept walk-in patients, not every issue requires an office visit in the first place, office manager Lori Dugan said. Although Dugan recognizes the convenience of urgent-care centers, she encourages parents to weigh their options first.

“We would appreciate their calling the office first and allowing us to guide them,” Dugan said. That approach allows the primary care doctor, the urgent care center, the patient and the parents to avoid wasting resources over ineffective or unnecessary treatments. In some cases, urgent care may be the best course, Dugan said.

This is especially true for patients who seek care during irregular hours, White said. Although the AspireCARE staff vows to see every patient who walks through its doors, the practice is not open 24/7. Similar limitations exist across the board for medical providers.

“The reality is that every medical provider working today is busy,” White said. “It does highlight the competitive nature of urgent care in this region. People have choices.”

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