When Sanai Mays, 5, of Egg Harbor Township, woke up with a sore throat Wednesday morning, her father tried to figure out where to take her to get it checked out.
“I was on the phone with my wife and I told her I was either going to take her to the doctor or to urgent care, and my daughter said that she wanted to go to urgent care, ” said Mike Mays, 33, of Egg Harbor Township, as he spoke with a nurse at AtlantiCare’s Urgent Care Center on English Creek Avenue. “I have four children, so we are constantly in and out of this urgent care.”
Mays is one of the growing number of people using urgent care facilities over hospital emergency rooms for non-emergency care.
Fueled by frustration over long waits in the emergency room for non-emergency care, and a reduction in available primary care appointments that often means patients wait weeks to see their doctor, a new growth spurt for the urgent care industry began in the mid-1990s and continues, according to a report by the American Academy of Urgent Care.
Since 2008, the number of facilities across the country has increased from 8,000 to 9,300, the report said.
“She wants to come here over the hospital,” Mays said. “As far as my insurance is concerned, urgent care is a $5 copay, while the emergency room is a $50 copay.”
AtlantiCare offers 10 urgent care locations around South Jersey, while Shore Medical Center has three locations. In July, Inspira Health Network opened an urgent care facility on West Landis Avenue in Vineland. The facility is Inspira’s first in Cumberland County.
“We’ve seen continued growth annually,” said Jatin Motiwal, vice president of AtlantiCare Physician Group, adding that over the past five years, AtlantiCare has seen an increase of about 25 percent in patients at urgent care facilities.
Urgent care facilities provide care for a variety of ailments, including sports injuries, flu, respiratory infections, minor lacerations, fractures and sprains, and many other general illnesses and injuries.
Shore Medical Center opened its first urgent care center in 2012 in Northfield, and has since opened two more locations in Atlantic City and Mays Landing, said Mark Stephens, administrative director of Shore Physicians Group.
“We are seeing the biggest impact with millennials — they think that they are bulletproof and they don’t want to sit in an emergency room for four hours,” Stephens said.
Health care, especially the concept of urgent care facilities, has changed a lot of over the years, said Dr. Robert Holtzin, a staff member at AtlantiCare Urgent Care in Egg Harbor Township. AtlantiCare opened its first urgent care facility in 2003.
“It was a word that was not known in the area when we opened this facility,” Holtzin said. “The only people that showed up at the start were other staff members wishing us well. Over the years, the amount of patients we saw continued to grow. Now urgent care has become synonymous with care after hours.”
Urgent care centers reported an average of nearly 14,000 patient care visits in 2014, according to a report by the Urgent Care Association of America. Facilities handle an average of four patient care visits per hour and 49.8 visits per day, according to the report.
“Urgent care is growing across the country because it provides patients a much-needed option for acute illnesses or injuries that aren’t life-threatening,” said Dr. Robert Kimball, president of the board of directors for the association. “Urgent care serves as a bridge between the emergency room, which can be too costly and time-consuming for common illnesses and non-life threatening episodic events, and primary care physician clinical services.”
The demand for urgent care-type facilities continues to grow, Kimball said
“Demand for urgent care is rapidly increasing due to the convenient hours that fit today’s patients’ busy schedules, and because it is a more affordable option than the emergency rooms or freestanding emergency rooms for less serious situations,” Kimball said.
Urgent care conjures up positives images for Sanai Mays, her father said.
“She wants to come here over the hospital. She hears hospital and thinks of needles; when she comes here she thinks popsicles and stickers,” Mays said, while his daughter stood next to him smiling and eating her popsicle.