When the wife of a finance worker at Akron General dislocated her thumb playing softball several years ago, he knew the most expensive place to go would be the ER.
The co-pay would be $75, compared to $35 for a trip to an urgent care center.
But when he called his insurer, he was told Akron General didn’t have any urgent care centers.
His options: Go to an Akron General emergency department or get care from an urgent care center run by a competitor.
“He opened my eyes as to what a gap in the offerings that we had for Akron General,” President and Chief Executive Dr. Thomas “Tim” Stover said. “We want to give patients choice.”
Next month, Akron General is opening the first of at least four planned urgent care centers for patients who need immediate care for minor illnesses and injuries.
The health system’s first walk-in center will be located at 33 North Ave., Tallmadge, where Akron General already has outpatient diagnostic services.
The center opens Feb. 1 and will be available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Akron General plans to launch at least another three urgent care centers throughout the region within the next year, Stover said. “We’re looking at markets where we feel Akron General needs to be, and, potentially, we’re not there already.”
All urgent care locations will be staffed by nurse practitioners, who will be supervised by physicians in the community under contract with the health system.
The centers offer an alternative for patients with less critical illnesses and injuries to traditional hospital ERs and the satellite emergency departments that Akron General already operates in Bath Township, Green and Stow, Stover said.
Dr. A. William Kedia, a family medicine physician in Tallmadge and Green, said sore throats, urinary tract infections, fevers and many other medical problems that happen outside regular office hours often can be treated more quickly and cost effectively in an urgent care setting.
Kedia is serving as medical director of Akron General’s new urgent care center in Tallmadge.
“If you come in with a cold and cough, I would hope you’d be in and out within an hour,” he said.
Urgent care centers can be a less-costly alternative to ERs, both for insurance companies and consumers, who increasingly are being forced to pay higher co-pays or deductibles for medical care.
The Urgent Care Association of America estimates more than 160 million Americans are treated in urgent care centers annually, at an average reimbursement of $118.11 per patient. The average reimbursement for the lowest 29 percent of ER visits is $302 per patient.
Urgent care centers are becoming a more common option for health-care consumers to get walk-in medical care.
Since 2008, the number of urgent care centers nationwide has swelled from 8,000 to about 9,300, with more than half of all centers located in suburbs, according to the Urgent Care Association of America, a national trade group. About 700 to 800 new centers are opening across the country each year.
Many Northeast Ohio hospitals operate urgent care centers or have affiliated facilities.
Cleveland-based University Hospitals announced this week that it is expanding in the region with a planned new center within an outpatient medical facility planned for Fairlawn.
Summa Health System, Summa Western Reserve Hospital, Robinson Memorial Hospital, Aultman Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Alliance Community Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic also offer urgent care centers as part of their outpatient services.
Stover said Akron General’s urgent care center in Tallmadge will provide occupational health services for area employers in addition to treating basic illnesses and injuries.
The hospital invested less than $200,000 for equipment and renovations for the location, which already had medical services and exam spaces.
Akron General is marking the launch of the Tallmadge center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. Feb. 1, followed by an open house until 1 p.m.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.