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Emergency, Primary, And Urgent Care: Why Should I Care?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 130 million patients visited emergency rooms in 2012. Many of those patients didn’t have health insurance, and used ERs for their basic and urgent medical needs.

While Healthcare Reform will help make affordable insurance more accessible, there’s still the downstream part to the problem: the nation doesn’t have enough primary care doctors to see all these patients (the ones trained to deal with the vast majority of patient health issues).

Emergency, Primary, And Urgent Care

If you need urgent medical attention and can’t find a primary care doctor, or your doctor is booked solid for 3 months, “who you gonna call?”

Ghos – I Mean – Shortage Busters: Just How Short Are We?
By the year 2020, the United States will face a shortage of primary care providers that will have been building for nearly 40 years. According to Forbes.com, the nation may have 45,000 fewer physicians than it needs to care for the population.

That’s a lot of “doctor not available” messages.

So it’s no wonder that some patients have headed to the ERs where they can’t be turned away, but which were designed to render expensive emergency care, not wellness-maintaining health care.

Effects Of ER Overcrowding
Emergency events are statistically rare, so ERs were created to handle low numbers of patients with dangerous, advanced, or severe medical problems needing immediate treatment.

When patients with doctor access problems and “regular” needs come in, the ERs become overburdened with volume. Periodically, this means they get “full” or “closed” and have to send ambulances away to other hospitals. This can delay the care that emergency patients require.

Even if the ERs don’t close, high patient volumes can result in long waits, while the more severe cases are seen, stabilized, and treated first. The ERs have to focus on what needs addressing right now, and quickly seeing, treating, and sending home patients who don’t need emergency care.

And, yes, having this 24-hour, 365 days a year access comes at a cost. ER copays are several times higher, and ER care is often 10 times more costly than regular office visits. Since ERs may know nothing about a new patient, they have to do more costly, invasive tests to make sure they aren’t “missing anything” that could make someone drop dead minutes after walking out the door.

So What’s A Person To Do?
Enter: Urgent Care centers.

Urgent Care centers are staffed and equipped to render medical care on short notice, but because they leave the life-threatening conditions to the ER, they can see you much quicker, with wait times in minutes rather than hours.

Their cost of care is much lower, since even urgent medical matters are rarely life-threatening, and don’t require expensive imaging or similar testing.

Most important of all, our own Woodbridge Walk-In urgent care center (as well as our other Family Care Centers urgent care sites) can connect you to local primary care doctors if you don’t have one. So instead of starting from scratch every time you get seen, you can establish with a regular physician who knows you, and can advise you on your health over time, about things that matter for a lifetime.

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Peter L Kim, MD

Dr. Kim,  is the Medical Director of Family Care Centers, Former Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Hoag Hospital, and a recipient of the Physicians of Excellence award from the Orange County Medical Association. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine, and has been practicing in our community for over 20 years. He is an excellent, caring, and well­qualified physician who is dedicated to providing you with superior health care. A native of Los Angeles, he graduated from UCLA and received his medical training at the LAC­USC Medical Center. After completing his residency in Family Medicine, he accepted a sports medicine fellowship at San Jose Medical Center, an affiliate of Stanford University. He enjoys working with patients and families who are training or want to get back into an active lifestyle.

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