There has been a growth in the number of urgent care centers, not only in the state, but nationally.
According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are more than 300 urgent care centers in New York and more than 8,700 centers nationwide.
While some experts say that urgent care centers should not replace the need for a primary care physician, and emergency rooms are there for serious injuries, they are filling a niche.
Dr. August Leinhart, who practices family practice and emergency medicine at Bassett Medical Center, said access to primary care is not good in many communities so urgent care centers or walk-in clinics can fill the gap.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, as of June 2011, there are
66,615,059 people living in a primary care Health Professional Shortage Area in the United States. A 2009 study by the National Association of Community Health Centers placed the number of individuals “lacking access to primary care” at 60 million. Only 2 years earlier that number was at 56 million.
The intent is not to replace primary care or ER services, but to provide an in-between option for patients with illnesses and injuries that need to be seen, he said.
“It is directed at patients that need to be seen that day, but who are not experiencing life-threatening emergencies,” Leinhart explained. “We have recognized a need for that kind service. It serves as an alternative.”
Common illnesses treated include abscesses, sore throats and coughs, Leinhart added.
Bassett Healthcare Network spokeswoman Karen Huxtable-Hooker said studies show that many patients who visit emergency rooms have conditions that can be appropriately cared for in an urgent care center.
“Urgent care centers can help take the burden off area emergency departments to deal with truly emergent conditions such as chest pain, difficulty breathing and major injuries or bleeding,” she said.