Urgent care facilities have been popping up all over the East Valley, and those who manage them say they are filling a gap between doctors’ offices and emergency rooms.
It’s not uncommon to have to wait two weeks or more for an appointment with your family physician, and the co-pays for emergency room visits are too expensive for something as minor as an allergy treatment, according to Gerald Bohulano, senior marketing coordinator at FastMed Urgent Care in Gilbert.
“We bridge the gap between your regular family care provider and the emergency room. Lots of the services you can get at the emergency room, we can provide at a more affordable price, and the wait time is a lot less,” Bohulano said.
Urgent care units are opening in stand-alone facilities, as well as in vacant offices in strip malls.
The services they offer include treating non-life threatening injuries, general medicine, flu shots and vaccines, physicals and treatment of injuries, said Dr. Brian Cafaro, medical director at FastMed in Arizona.
“We see a lot of different things and I would consider this somewhat of a specialty, since we are often able to do a lot more things than a primary care office,” Cafaro said. “It’s more like the pace of an emergency room, but we are not dealing with the life threatening injuries.”
When patients come to an urgent care facility with a life threatening injury - say a knife wound, or a cut tendon – usually they will be referred to an emergency room, Cafaro said.
“If there is anything we can’t handle at our facility, we have a referral list and we’ll tell the patient exactly where they need to go,” Cafaro said. “And often we’ll even call the offices and tell them the patient is coming in.”
Along with people finding it difficult to get into their doctor, some just don’t have one. When a patient without a regular doctor suffers a sore throat, flu symptoms, or needs minor stitches, the belief may set in that seeking coverage in an emergency room – even with health insurance – doesn’t make sense. That’s when an urgent care facility fits the need.
“We take almost every insurance,” Cafaro said. “Generally the only ones we don’t take are Medicaid programs from out of state.”
For those who don’t have insurance, FastMed Urgent Care enrolls patients in a membership program for a $35 one-time fee that covers an entire family for as long as they come to FastMed. On subsequent office visits, fees start at typically $100, and if patients need any other services, such as X-rays or labs, there is an additional charge for those services, said Brittany Huff, director of finance administration at FastMed Urgent Care.
“There are so many families who, especially given the economic downturn, don’t have the same access they used to have to healthcare,” Huff said. “We’re trying to provide a convenient, cost-effective solution for health care.”
While the rental movie industry has struggled, the urgent care industry has flourished, and many have found homes in former Blockbuster and Hollywood Video locations, according to Bohulano.
“They are going out of business and the size is just perfect for us,” he said.
FastMed currently has seven East Valley locations – Gilbert, Chandler, three in Mesa, two in Tempe – and has plans to open three more facilities in the East Valley before the end of the year. The company renovates the buildings, adds the proper medical equipment and has the offices decorated by Pier 1 Imports.
Another provider, East Valley Urgent Care, has one location each in Tempe, Mesa and Chandler, and two in Gilbert.
Urgent care facilities are rarely open 24 hours, Bohulano said, but FastMed locations typically see patients between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and have Sunday and holiday hours as well.
Dignity Health’s (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) urgent care facilities in Ahwatukee, Queen Creek, or Gilbert, are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day. East Valley Urgent Care facilities are open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday hours until 7 p.m.
Among the bevy of other urgent care centers in the East Valley: NextCare, (Tempe, Chandler, Mesa) and Alliance Urgent Care (Gilbert), as well as independent sites like Chandler Valley Urgent Care, Desert Valley Urgent Care (Chandler), or Health First Urgent Care (Gilbert).