Can Urgent Care Centers Provide Increased Access to Care & Reduce ER Utilization, While Maintaining Continuity of Patient Care?

December 2, 2020

By Maria Nikol

One of the keys to ACO success is ensuring that patients get the right care in the right place at the right time. 95 percent of Aledade’s physician partners provide 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week patient access to an on-call doctor.  But what happens if a patient has an urgent health need after hours that can’t be addressed over the phone? Is the Emergency Room the best option?

Urgent care clinics offer an additional care option for patients, which significantly/crucially/measurably expands access to care. These clinics offer patient-friendly hours and a quicker, less costly care option than hospitals, when a primary care physician is not available. When urgent care centers are too far away or closed, patients resort to going to the ED. At the ED patients face chronically long wait times, expensive and often unnecessary care. It also may be difficult to reconcile patient records after a visit to the ED.

Effective urgent care clinics exemplify the key to coordinated care:  getting the right care at the right time in the right care setting. Urgent care centers can also make significant strides in reducing the strain on overcrowded hospitals, decreasing the wait for care, and shortening the distance patients travel for care – all while achieving the value-based care goal of high-quality care at lower costs.

For physicians, urgent care clinics ensure their patients are getting the care they need when they need it. And, by partnering with urgent care clinics, primary care physicians can be notified of when their patients receive care, get clinical notes and records, and coordinate transitional or follow up care. This informational sharing partnership is especially important for ACO physicians – as this care coordination updates physicians on pertinent information, helps keep patients out of the ED and hospital, limits unnecessary or repeated tests, and reduces overall costs.

Aledade’s Delaware ACO recently established a care compact with a large group of local urgent care clinics. This care compact enables data and record sharing between the urgent care clinics and Aledade ACO partner practices, improving patient care at the clinics and rounding out/filling in ACO practices’ knowledge of their patients’ care. To ensure patients are receiving the highest quality of care in an urgent care setting, Aledade has instituted a monthly case reviews with the urgent care center’s clinical team. In addition, Aledade plans to monitor key quality measures over time, ensuring the urgent care center is a good alternative for patients to obtain access to care as an alternative to the emergency department.

The Delaware urgent care clinic agreement is an important example of one the many ways Aledade is working to encourage and improve urgent care throughout our ACOs. Urgent care centers play a vital role in an effective, value-driven health care system. In each of our ACO markets, Aledade is looking for ways to model Delaware’s care compact, which both coordinates care between our ACO practices and urgent care centers, as well as expands access to urgent care for our ACOs’ patients.

However, in some areas where Aledade’s ACOs operate, urgent care clinics are few and far between.  In these cases, Aledade and our ACO partner practices have to get creative – finding the best ways to expand PCP availability to patients in order to compensate for a lack of other nearby providers.

Recently, physicians from one of Aledade’s Primary Care ACO  partner practices, the WVVA Health Care Alliance, came together to form their own urgent care clinic, providing access to care for the communities of western Virginia and southeastern West Virginia. Known as Alliance Express Urgent Care, this new clinic has not only expanded access to care for the community, but lightened the care load for the local hospital by seeing up to 50 patients per day. As an urgent care facility run by the local primary care physicians, Alliance Express is in full communication and coordination around patients’ care. After each patient visit, the urgent care provider calls the patient’s primary care doctor to fill the physician in on the patient’s health and health care needs.

Aledade believes that urgent care clinics play a vital role in the health care ecosystem, and Aledade is committed to partnering with and increasing access to urgent care clinics across all of our ACOs where possible. By connecting primary care practices with other health care stakeholders, we can help deliver coordinated, high-quality care.