POPCAREPLUS WAS RECENTLY FEATURED IN AN ARTICLE BY THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. SEE BELOW FOR THE ACTUAL ARTICLE:
Eric Adar, an emergency physician, regularly sees patients who could be treated in other settings but who come to emergency departments because they can’t get care elsewhere. Many can’t get an appointment with a doctor on short notice or need care after physician offices are closed. Others don’t have a primary care physician. To Adar and 13 other emergency physicians, it shows the need for more urgent care clinics. Last week, the 14 physicians opened popcare, an urgent care clinic at 6501 S. 27 St. in Franklin, becoming the most recent entry in an increasingly competitive market.
The physicians all work for Emergency Medicine Specialists, which employs more than 100 people, including more than 30 doctors. The physician group staffs the emergency departments of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare’s hospitals in the Milwaukee area. The 14 physicians who are investing in popcare initially will staff the urgent care clinic, but they plan to hire physician assistants and nurse practitioners trained in emergency medicine.
The United States now has about 9,000 urgent care clinics, and the clinics can be found throughout the Milwaukee area. In November, AFC/Doctors Express, a franchise, opened in Waukesha. Concentra, part of Humana Inc., has several urgent care clinics in the Milwaukee area. And most health systems now operate urgent care clinics.
The clinics also compete with retail clinics, such as those found at Walgreens, CVS and Walmart, as well as Aurora Health Care’s QuickCare clinics. Part of the appeal is the convenience. “It’s huge,” Adar said. But urgent care clinics with extended hours also are a way to slow the rise in health care spending, he said.Emergency departments exist for emergent care and have much higher costs. They are not the ideal setting for a parent whose child has an earache. Yet Adar said a hospital emergency department may be the only option if the office of the family’s physician is closed.An urgent care clinic is a less expensive and less stressful place to get care. “It’s a much more relaxing environment,” Adar said.
More than half of all emergency room visits were for urgent or a lower level of care in 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whether a patient requires emergency care often isn’t known until seen by a physician or other clinician. But an estimated 13.7% to 27.1% of all emergency department visits could take place at a retail or urgent care clinic, potentially saving the health care system $4.4 billion a year, according to a study by researchers at Rand Corp. published in Health Affairs in 2010.
The study also noted that visits to emergency departments for sore throats, sinus infections, laryngitis, ear infections, rashes and urinary tract infections jump when other care sites are not open.
Popcare will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Adar and the other physicians are betting that their training as emergency physicians will give them a competitive advantage. “We multitask all the time,” he said, “and we are suited for this type of care.” It also could help them in designing the workflow of the clinic. “We are workflow experts,” he said. “That is one of the hallmarks of the specialty.”
The urgent care clinic, located in a strip center, has nine exam rooms. It also has X-ray equipment. Adar estimated the physicians’ initial investment at around $1 million. “It’s a business,” he said, “and those of us who are participating are taking on some risk.”
The clinic has contracted with a company to handle its billing, and the company negotiated contracts with health insurance companies. The physicians’ fees will be lower than those in an emergency department.
Emergency Medicine Specialists, the physician group that Adar and the other physicians belong to, operates a walk-in clinic with extended hours at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Franklin.
Adar said the new urgent care clinic, which expects to draw patients from a roughly 5-mile radius, will not compete with that clinic or the hospital. Their biggest concern, Adar said, is building a market. “I don’t know any start-up that doesn’t have this concern,” he said. “It’s a bit of a gamble.”
13.7% to 27.1% of all emergency department visits could take place at a retail or urgent care clinic, potentially saving the health care system $4.4 billion a year.