By Ed Sealover, Reporter, Denver Business Journal
Story Last Updated: January 2014 – Of all the changes health care will undergo in 2014, one is likely to be universally well received: It’s becoming more convenient.
Urgent-care clinics and retail clinics offering non-critical care to patients who can’t get in to see their primary-care physicians are proliferating, and doctors’ offices are experimenting with less costly and more efficient ways to treat people.
And with some 32 million Americans expected to be newly insured because of the federal health-insurance mandate, the need for such care alternatives is driving innovation.
“We already have an access-to-care problem in many markets, and 2014 is going to exacerbate the problem,” said John Julian, president/CEO of NextCare Urgent Care, a Phoenix-based urgent-care clinic company that operates six Colorado locations and is looking to expand. “Folks are looking for a more cost-effective and convenient model.”
In some cases, that is urgent-care clinics, which treat injuries and illnesses and offer lab services and X-rays.
NextCare, which grew from 67 clinics nationwide in October 2012 to 92 in October 2013, locates in commercial centers near residential areas with no other competition within three miles, offering what Julian called another option to seeing doctors who sometimes have waiting lists of several days.
In other cases, the alternative model is retail clinics located in chains like Walgreens and Walmart that rely on nurse practitioners and some doctors to give shots and treat minor illnesses and injuries without appointments.
A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey released in November compared insurance claims over a two-week period and found that those filed following retail clinic visits were as much as 45 percent lower than those filed after patients went to a doctor’s office or emergency room.
And then there is direct primary care (DCP), a new model offered by physicians’ offices — specifically by North Vista Medical Center, which believes its Nextera Healthcare is the first DPC in Colorado.
Under that model, patients pay a set monthly fee for unlimited access to a doctor, including 24/7 phone and email connections and the possibility of seeing a physician after-hours for minor injuries and illnesses — but the payments come directly from patients rather than insurers.
Dr. Clint Flanagan — co-founder of the practice that has locations in Boulder, Longmont and Firestone — said his business nearly doubled its patients to almost 900 members in 2013 as high-deductible plans become more popular and people look for ways to get comprehensive care at lower costs.
“That access to high-quality health care is going to keep you out of more expensive places, like the hospital,” he said.