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Photo: 12963734/Getty Images/iStockphoto, License: N/A, Created: 2018:09:26 14:57:19

by Phil Yacuboski

You likely have seen them pop-up in strip malls and along the highway – places where you can walk in and get medicine for a bad cold or stitches for that kitchen accident while preparing for Sunday dinner.

Urgent care is becoming big business.

According to two reports by FAIR Health, a nonprofit covering the health care marketplace, urgent care centers have grown 1,725 percent from 2007 to 2016 – a rate is seven times that of emergency rooms across the country.

There are currently 288 urgent care centers across the state with more expected in the future. It’s an $18 billion business that will grow 5.8 percent across the U.S., according to the Urgent Care Association of America.

“Urgent care is growing due to increased need in the marketplace and consumer preference for affordable health care at times and locations that are convenient for them,” said Laurel Stoimenoff, chief executive of the Urgent Care Association of America.

MedExpress has 53 locations in Pennsylvania including Wilkes-Barre, Edwardsville, Selinsgrove and Williamsport.

“MedExpress centers accept most major insurance plans and offer affordable pricing for those without insurance,” said Kathy Kaluhiokalani, Chief Operating Officer, for MedExpress Urgent Care. “We have convenient hours and don’t require appointments. We’re also staffed by a full medical team that can care for a broad scope of services – everything from X-rays for broken bones to nebulizer treatments.”

She said employers and their employees can use MedExpress for workers’ compensation, injury care and pre-employment screenings and physicals; it also includes sports physicals, routine physicals and immunizations.

“I think urgent care and MedExpress are playing an increasingly important role in the health care system,” she said. “Urgent care offers an option to patients who may not be able to immediately see their primary care physicians or who don’t need true emergency treatment. MedExpress can bridge the gap between what primary care and the emergency room offer by providing access to convenient, quality, affordable care for non-emergent illnesses and injuries and work-related health care needs.”

Kaluhiokalani declined to discuss financial matters or if they were expanding in the northeast region of the state.

“In rural markets where health care choices may be limited, urgent care centers can play an especially important role,” she said. “In areas with fewer options, patients may find themselves traveling longer distances to get care or going to hospitals or emergency rooms for non-emergent conditions.”

“There’s a huge focus that is shifting towards primary care,” said Dr. Cindy Mailloux, professor and chair of the nursing department at King’s College, “and being able to care for patients in a timely manner, which is what urgent care centers are doing by expanding their office hours and being available.”

Dr. Mailloux said urgent care centers typically deal with nonlife-threatening events such as ear aches, broken bones and sore throats. If someone does come to an urgent care center with a more serious problem, she said, they will send them directly to the hospital.

“It’s really to treat those less severe cases to leave the emergency rooms open for the more severe cases,” she said.

She said training is the same for those who want to work in that environment, which are typically staffed with doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“The care is good,” she said. “The only takeback is that it’s a little more fragmented. When that patient goes to an urgent care center, they see someone who isn’t involved in their care, but the outcomes are good.”

Dr. Mailloux, said she and her husband both have used them for minor health concerns.

“If you call your primary care provider, they’ll see you in a month,” she said. “They take the strain off the health system as well as the cost to companies who are providing this type of care.”