The newest stars in the medical landscape may not be ER docs making life-saving decisions — think George Clooney’s Doug Ross at Chicago’s County General Hospital. Instead, they’re the urgent-care physicians who are filling a growing need in the Valley — and across the nation. They deliver ambulatory care when an illness or injury requires attention — but isn’t so serious that it warrants an expensive, time-consuming visit to a crowded emergency room. They are also the go-to medical specialists when primary care or family physicians aren’t available, or patients don’t have a regular physician.
Seeking services from an urgent-care physician is appealing for other reasons, too. Most work in attractive offices (which sometimes are affiliated with a local hospital) that are open seven days a week; require no advance appointment; get patients in and out quickly; accept medical insurance; provide follow-up care or referrals; and are skilled at diagnosing and treating nonacute medical problems like flu, earaches, and sprains. And most are staffed by board-certified physicians trained in emergency medicine or primary care with back-up from physicians’ assistants and nurses. Many facilities have X-ray equipment on-site; some provide occupational health services.
If your child is sent home from school with conjunctivitis, and you can’t get her in to see your pediatrician, consider visiting an urgent-care center. You can see a physician or nurse before the end of the day, usually within 10 to 15 minutes of arrival, get her treated, back to school sooner, and you don’t miss as much work, says Dr. Anthony R. Ruvo, a cofounder of Orange Urgent Care in Middletown, Excel Urgent Care in Goshen and Fishkill, and four other centers (including one in New York City). Besides patients having higher expectations for care, Dr. Ruvo says cost savings are a major catalyst. “The average ER bill runs about $1,800; ours is about one-eighth or 10th of that,” he says.
The shortage of primary care physicians has been another driver for growth, according to Lou Ellen Horwitz, executive director of the Urgent Care Association of America. The first ones opened in the early 1980s, she says; today, about 9,000 operate nationwide, with 25 percent connected with a hospital. Her association’s Web site, www.urgentcarecenter.org, lists centers by state and area.
Other local urgent-care centers are operated by Emergency One in Kingston and Hyde Park, and Health Quest in Lagrangeville and Wappinger Falls.
If you’re thinking of using an urgent-care center, be sure to check hours, payment requirements, and staffing — not all have a physician on board.