When urgent care centers do treat young patients,
their staff should communicate with the children's primary care
providers, the policy statement from the American Academy of
Pediatrics (AAP) adds.
"I think that one of the underlying messages is that urgent care
centers are an important place for children to get urgent economical
and acute care, but there is very little research out there," Dr.
Gregory Conners said.
Conners is the lead author of the new policy statement, which is
published in the AAP journal Pediatrics. He is also vice chair of
pediatrics for emergency and urgent care at Children's Mercy
Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
Urgent care centers are usually freestanding clinics that provide
services for a range of ailments from stomach aches to broken bones.
The centers typically step in when doctors' offices are closed or no
appointments are available.
There were approximately 9,000 such centers in the U.S. providing
care to over 160 million people in 2013, according to the Urgent
Care Association of America.
The cost of a visit to an urgent care center depends on its owner
and the patient's condition and insurance (see Reuters story of June
11, 2013 here: http://reut.rs/QVHPLF.)
Urgent care centers differ from the retail clinics found in many
pharmacies. The AAP recommended earlier this year that children not
receive primary care from retail clinics (see Reuters Health story
of February 24, 2014 here: http://reut.rs/QUWCX2).
The AAP team writes that well-managed urgent care centers can be
integrated into communities and enhance children's care. They can
provide safe and effective care, but not replace children's primary
healthcare teams — known as medical homes.
The organization recommends that urgent care centers set a scope of
care that outlines what they can and should provide to children. But
the centers should be prepared for emergencies, too.
"I'm not saying urgent care centers should be ready to manage all
emergencies, but they need to be able to start care while they're
dialing 911," said Conners, who oversees three urgent care centers.
The centers should integrate themselves with the local system of
care, which includes health departments and medical societies. They
should also have transfer agreements with area hospitals that
provide emergency care.
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Conners said the statement authors also recommend that staff have
the training to manage children's care, in particular.
"There is enough specific knowledge that it's necessary," he said.
"You can do adult and pediatric care but you have to be as good with pediatrics
as with the adults."
The centers should also collaborate with local primary care
doctors to make sure documents and other communications are promptly
"The AAP is really supportive of the medical home concept," Conners
said. "I think this statement is really in line with that."
Dr. Robert G. Graw Jr. told Reuters Health that, for the most part,
urgent care centers are not trying to compete with or provide
primary care. "What they're really trying to do is supplement those
doctors," he said.
Graw, a pediatrician, is chief executive officer of Righttime
Medical Care, a group of urgent care centers near Annapolis,
He said parents can trust urgent care centers.
"Urgent care clinics have matured and give trustworthy care at times
when their private physicians are not available, but they integrate
their care with what their physician needs to know," he added.
Pediatrics, online April 28, 2014.
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