Medical professionals have noticed a growing trend in the health care-using population — a move toward using urgent care and convenience care clinics instead of primary care physicians or emergency rooms for first-line care of illnesses and minor injuries.

Tucson is served by several organizations that provide either urgent care or convenience care centers, with four groups offering care at 11 Northwest locations.

Northwest Medical Center has four urgent care centers in the Northwest, recently moving one facility from the corner of Ina and Shannon roads to a Orange Grove-Thornydale-River roads location. Northwest’s other three urgent care locations are at Continental Reserve on Silverbell Road, La Paloma on Sunrise Drive and Ranch Vistoso on Oracle Road.

NextCare Urgent Care operates one facility in the Northwest on Oracle Road.

Four convenience care facilities are provided by Walgreens’ Take Care Health on Cortaro Road, La Canada Drive, Orange Grove Road and Ina Road, while CVS Minute Clinics are located on Ina and Oracle roads.

All facilities report increases in the numbers of patients seen over the past year, seemingly part of a trend on the part of people seeking basic health care services.

Misty Colvin, M.D., medical director of Northwest Medical Center Urgent Care in Tucson, said each of their facilities offers X-rays and limited lab services, are staffed by registered nurses (RN), a physician on site every day, and also physician’s assistants (PA) and nurse practitioners (NP) who work alongside physicians.

“We have medications on site, are able initiate IVs, can immobilize fractures and sprains, and function much like an emergency room in that we see anyone who comes in,” Colvin said. “When there’s a need for acute care, that’s why we’re here.”

Colvin believes Tucson has a large number of people seeking urgent care services because they are available on a widespread basis and also because the individuals may not have an opportunity to see a primary care physician.

“The convenience of a urgent care center is another reason,” she said. “It’s gratifying to be able to walk into a center and get the care you need.”

Colvin said urgent care staffers see a wide array of illnesses and injuries, including coughs, colds, breaks and lacerations.

“In the past some patients might have gone to the ER, but because we have the ability to help them, they come to us,” she noted.

Colvin pointed out that approximately 5 percent to 10 percent of patients on any given day are referred to emergency rooms for advanced care.

“It comes down to their testing or diagnostic needs, as well as the type of injury or illness,” she said.

Charlotte Woodring, NextCare Urgent Care’s operations manager for Southern Arizona, said the scope of practice in her facility runs from basic to acute illness and injury.

“It can be anything from a laceration to someone who slipped and fell in the bathtub, or from an intestinal tract infection to an acute sore throat,” Woodring said.

Woodring said she’s seen an increase in the use of NextCare’s facilities.

“There’s been a proliferation of urgent care centers in the Tucson area,” she pointed out. “In the time I’ve been with NextCare, we’ve opened four additional facilities in the area.”

Woodring said her staffing model includes physicians, PAs and NPs. NextCare Urgent Care also offers X-rays, so it has state-licensed radiology technicians on staff as well.

“We don’t want to take patients away from primary care physicians, especially chronic care patients, but want to handle those patients who need to be stabilized before being seen by a primary care physician or referred to an ER,” Woodring pointed out. “We take on the lower acuity visits and refer the more serious patients to the ER.”

Danica Stout, NP, manager of clinic operations for Walgreens’ Take Care Clinic, said that convenience care clinics provide low-cost, affordable illness and injury care for individuals and families.

“We treat such things as allergies, colds, flu, stomach issues and do immunizations, as well as school and work physicals,” Stout said.

Staffing is accomplished by master’s-prepared NPs from an array of practice fields, she noted, including primary care, family practice, emergency medicine and cardiology.

“The variety of visits in any week will run from sick visits to wellness visits (exams) to testing, depending on the location and time of year,” Stout said. “But we’ve seen patient demand for access to services in our clinics continue to grow. We opened in 2007 and have seen growth in the number of patients in our clinics every year since then.”

Stout cited convenience and the availability of extended weekend hours as reasons for some of the growth in use.

Mila Garcia, NP and manager of operations of CVS Minute Clinic, said her organization also began operations in the area in 2007 and has seen increases in the number of individuals seen in clinics every year since.

“The cold and flu season are our heaviest patient-volume times,” Garcia observed, “and January through March is that season.”

Garcia noted that the clinics will see children 18 months and older, and perform both sports and school physicians for children.

“Our patients tell us they don’t have to wait as long in our clinic as in an urgent care or a doctor’s office,” Garcia pointed out.” “And they also cite the convenience, quality care and customer service.”

Garcia added that about half of the patients seen don’t identify a primary care physician. Of those who do not, her staff will help them identify a PCP from a list of surrounding area physicians accepting new patients.

Cost of care varies between urgent care and convenience care clinics, as well as due to the type of service sought by the patient, although most facilities accept many types of insurance. Kim Chimene, spokesperson for Northwest Medical Center, said charges for self-pay patients at NMC urgent care centers will vary, depending on the medical need and the seriousness of the condition, plus whether diagnostic services such as X-rays or lab work are needed.

Woodring of NextCare Urgent Care said self-pay for a straightforward office visit would be $165 for one uncomplicated chief complaint, with lab work additional at $45. NextCare offers a ValueCare discount medical service program, which costs $50 annually, but brings an office visit down to $80; with lab work still extra.

At Walgreens’ Take Care Clinic, self-pay visits are $69 for an illness or injury examination, while procedures, vaccines and physicals are separately priced. At CVS Minute Clinic, a minor illness or injury exam is $79 for a self-pay visit, and other procedures, vaccines and physicals are priced separately.

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