Urgent Care Clinics Keep Popping Up in Atlanta
(APN) ATLANTA — The number of Urgent Care Centers has been increasing in Atlanta over the past several years, as new options, posing alternatives to primary care, are becoming available for Atlanta consumers.
Dr. Anthony Ferrara, a pioneer specializing in the field of emergency medicine and the business of Urgent Care, and part owner of several Atlanta Urgent Care Centers, called the increase “dramatic,” and described it as a “tidal wave.”
“I could have predicted this five years ago. If you’re successful, people are gonna follow. Everyone that’s coming in is a venture capitalist,” Ferrara said.
One of the main new companies doing business in Atlanta is Well Street, a venture capital firm that is marketing in cooperation with Piedmont Hospital. Well Street has locations in Virginia Highlands, Buckhead North, and Buckhead South in Atlanta; as well as in Dunwoody and Johns Creek in north Fulton; and in Austell.
Concentra, owned by Humana, has several clinics in Metro Atlanta, including one in Midtown Atlanta; locations in south Fulton, Hapeville, Johns Creek, and Sandy Springs in Fulton County; and locations in Conley, Conyers, Lawrenceville, Marietta, Morrow, and Norcross.
“There’s expected to be a company called Carepoint and another company called Med Express all looking to put in their franchises in Atlanta,” Ferrara told APN.
“I think there will be more urgent care than there will be Starbucks,” he said.
Ferrara co-owns Urgent Care at Peachtree, which opened in 2011. He says when he started there were about ten urgent care centers in the area, but now there are thirty to forty.
“If you start at Piedmont Hospital and head toward Roswell, there’s about ten, all next to each other,” he said.
There are numerous reasons why urgent care centers and other alternative care options are increasing in popularity.
“If you have Obamacare [insurance under the Affordable Care Act], you use it for the hospitalizations, but you can use urgent care centers for your health care. Most people have a five to six thousand dollar deductible and some people don’t have money or insurance, like a young person who is healthy right out of college,” Ferrara said.
“Sixty to eighty percent of people who go to an emergency room really could be seen at a doctors office. Going to a Urgent Care Facility is about ten to twenty times cheaper [than an ER visit]. Again most people have a high deductible so if they go to the emergency room say for stitches they would use up two to four thousand dollars. If they go to an urgent care, then that visit drops down significantly,” Ferrara said.
“An average urgent care visit is about six to eight hundred dollars for stitches. There are other urgent cares like Urgent Care Peachtree which is open six to eleven, and they have ‘one price covers all’ for most insurances. Where the average price is 130 dollars. It doesn’t matter if it is pink eye, or you go in for an ankle sprain, it is the same price. You don’t get nickeled and dimed for the extra x-ray charge… None of the extra fees. One price covers all. Everything is included,” Ferrara said.
“If someone goes to the emergency room for a stomach ache it could be thousands, but if he came to an Urgent Care is would be 130 and that price would have covered all. For cash patients, those who have no insurance, the price is still about that. The only thing that is different is that they pay extra for the x-ray and for labs. But usually there is not a cost, so they are really only paying for the visit,” he said.
When asked what the difference are in the urgent care clinics in Atlanta, Ferrara said, “Each is different and in our Urgent Care we have all emergency care physicians. We don’t use nurse practitioners or physician assistants. You always see a physician or an owner, every single time. That is a huge advantage. So you get quality care. Other advantages are we are open six to eleven. The third advantage is that there is no appointment necessary,” he said.
“The average turnaround time is under one hour. You are in and out. So for people who are in a hurry, it’s very convenient it is very fast. You should check the website and see who you will be seeing if you are looking into an Urgent Care near you. See the physicians listed they would be seeing, what their credentials are, whether they will see a nurse practitioner or a physicians assistant… The best way to find out is go to Google reviews,” he said.
“I think it is a competitive market and… the more you have them compete, the more it will drive prices down. Urgent Cares has been popping up in pharmacies and that is definitely driving down the price already. Whether you have Obamacare or not. It is a good trend from a consumer point of you. In general Urgent Care prices have gone down dramatically. Before it was going to doctors office. Now what is the same price to go to the doctors office the difference is convince. Why not go to an Urgent Care and be in and out in an hour where if you went to a doctor office even though you have a doctors appointment you will sit for an hour. another trend.”
Dr. Nicholas Beaulieu, owner of Highland Urgent Care & Family Medicine, on Ponce de Leon Avenue, offers a different type of service: a flat fee or monthly subscription for medical care services.
“Yeah, well you know it is an interesting time, the situation now where people are generating high deductible health care plans. So for the first time in their lives they are having to sit there and reassess the value of it,” Beaulieu said.
“So there are so many options right now. So you have the minute clinic, which just a nurse practitioner in a box in a drug store. Like CVS, which their focus is getting people to come, then giving them a script [prescription] and they walk to the counter and fill it. That is a big business model for them. The nurse practitioners are trained to see about ten to fifteen conditions, but that is it. They are just sitting there looking at colds, flus, maybe a urinary tract infection. Anything that falls out of that is not for them,” he said.
“So that is the most basic of all models. That is the retail model. But now what I see is tele-medicine. They are actually going to be able to initiate a visit with a physician via Skype or something like that. So that I would say would be the lowest form of interactions and the lowest cost,” he said.
“Then the next thing I would say would be the retail places. For example, my model I approach Urgent Care from a primary perspective. My model really is to treat people acutely and focus on aftercare,” he said.
“There are so few primaries left, the people have no outlet to go for care. Some may take one to six weeks for a visit; or they can see us that day,” he said.
“We offer a couple of other programs where, like for an uninsured patient we have an alliance. And that’s where for a flat fee of sixty dollars a month you get a bundle of services from out- clinic, that with the continuity, will also get you a few visits a year, and all the labs, and any EKG you need and half off every other service we have,” he said.
“If you need an x-ray and it cost 80 it would be 40, or if you need a 4th visit it would be beyond the three visits with your monthly fee. That would be 65 per visit. So that is the healthy alliance we provide, partly because we are primary care and we want to have that continuity. We really encourage people to have a high deductible plan with that,” he said.
“We keep hearing this concept of a high deductible plan, and that is really what Obamacare is. So your deductible is going to be 2500 to 3000 dollars something like that. So with the insurance industry they have all of the data, and they know if you hit 2,500 in a year, that means you are going to hit 25,000 and something bad happened. They have the numbers down pretty well. So you have to go back to what insurance was originally meant for,” he said.
“Same thing for your house or your car, if a light goes out in your house you don’t call the insurance company. If your house burns down that is when you make that call. So that is what insurance is for. It is to keep you from losing your house. Same thing for health insurance, if you don’t have insurance then you are probably going file bankruptcy,” he said.
“What you are seeing now is corporate urgent care. You are getting all the corporations and hospitals trying to generate urgent care chains. So that is why you see very few independent physicians, I think we are down to about seventeen percent independent physicians and that was from sixty percent in 2008. So you can see that is dissipating rapidly,” he said.
“We also have the advantage of being small, we are community based. You don’t build it and they come, you have to be a part of the community. All of my neighbors are my patients, I have a lot of loyalty. And with hospitals the doctors are always changing out so they don’t have that type of loyalty and consistency,” he said.
“Look at the most rapidly growing part of this, which is really telemedicine. We have a service now where you can actually initiate a visit through your telephone. From a Smartphone, you can send a text to me, and say you have a rash. And you can send me a picture, and I can tell you it is Poison Ivy and send you a prescription. Or I can say that looks bad you need to come in. You can also Skype a visit that is coming along pretty quick. So in terms of interactions and cost that is probably going to be the lowest overhead cost. At some point in time I think there will be a call center in India. But as it stands right now, that is the model I see adapting because it is much lower cost. In any rapid growing industry you see a lot of different prices and models,” he said.
According to a recent New York Times report, what is going on in Atlanta is going on nationwide.
“[P]rivate equity investment firms, sensing opportunity, invest billions in urgent care and related businesses. Since 2008, these investors have sunk $2.3 billion into urgent care clinics. Commercial insurance companies, regional health systems and local hospitals are also looking to buy urgent care practices or form business relationships with them,” the Times reported.
“Despite concerns of possible increased regulations, companies are lining up to buy urgent care groups. The insurance giant Humana paid nearly $800 million in 2010 to buy Concentra, the nation’s largest group of urgent care centers, with about 300 currently. Two years later, Dignity Health, a San Francisco-based health system, acquired U.S. HealthWorks, a group that today has 176 centers. Even hospitals are embracing the trend. Florida Hospital in Orlando, for example, has opened 24 Centra Care urgent care clinics.”
The popularity of urgent care facilities has grown and will continue growing so knowing your options in this new market is essential.