Many ER Visits Could Be Handled Elsewhere

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Sept. 8 (UPI) — Some 17 percent of all visits to U.S. hospital emergency room could be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centers, U.S. researchers say.

The Rand Corp. study says if minor infections, strains, fractures and lacerations were treated at retail clinics or urgent care centers, the annual savings would be $4.4 billion.

Many hospital ERs have strained not only in the emergency treatment of the uninsured, but many who are insured seek hospital treatment because they cannot get timely treatment from their physician or their physician has limited after-hours options and they are told to go to the hospital.

“Patient traffic to hospital emergency departments has been growing, but a significant proportion of patients could be safely treated in these alternative settings,” lead author Robin Weinick, a senior social scientist at the Rand Corp., a non-profit research organization, says in a statement. “Diverting these patients to alternatives such as retail clinics and urgent care centers could shorten their waiting times and save money.”

The researchers estimate 13.7 percent of all emergency department visits reviewed could have been treated in a retail medical clinic, but it decreases to about 8 percent when the analysis is restricted to visits that occur when retail clinics typically are open.

An additional 13.4 percent of all hospital emergency department visits could be treated at an urgent care center.

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