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Many hospital emergency department visits could be treated elsewhere, study finds
Date:9/6/2010

About 17 percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments across the United States could be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centers, potentially saving $4.4 billion annually in health care costs, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Conditions that could be treated safely outside hospitals include minor infections, strains, fractures and lacerations, according to findings published in the September edition of the journal Health Affairs.

"Patient traffic to hospital emergency departments has been growing, but a significant proportion of patients could be safely treated in these alternative settings," said Robin Weinick, the study's lead author and a senior social scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Diverting these patients to alternatives such as retail clinics and urgent care centers could shorten their waiting times and save money."

More Americans are using hospital emergency departments because they face long waits for appointments with their physician and limited after-hours options. Many studies have found the cost of treating of nonemergent conditions in the emergency department is significantly higher than in other settings, which can increase patients' out-of-pocket costs and add avoidable spending to the nation's health care bill.

Alternative care settings for non-emergency care such as retail medical clinics and urgent care centers have increased over the past decade. Retail clinics, located in pharmacies or grocery stores, are typically staffed by nurse practitioners and a treat a limited range of health conditions such as sore throats or urinary tract infections. Urgent care centers are freestanding physician-staffed facilities that offer extended hours, onsite x-rays and laboratory testing, and which can treat a broader range of conditions, including minor fractures and serious cuts.

Both retail clinics and urgent care centers are open in the evening
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Contact: Warren Robak
robak@rand.org
310-451-6913
RAND Corporation
Source:Eurekalert

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