Providence Health Care and Group Health Cooperative are collaborating on development of urgent-care centers in the Spokane area in what marks a shift in philosophy for both organizations.
Most immediately, says Providence spokesman Joe Robb, Providence plans to open an urgent care center early next year in the former Providence Business Center building it owns at 421 S. Division, at the base of the South Hill and a few blocks from Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children's Hospital. He declines for now, though, to disclose additional details.
At the same time, Group Health plans late this year to stop offering urgent care at its Riverfront Medical Center, at 322 W. North River Drive, says Kelly Stanford, the organization's vice president of market development for Spokane. That location is the only one of its four Spokane-area Group Health offices that offers urgent care.
Stanford says Group Health and Providence currently are finalizing the details for their urgent-care partnership, and it's unclear precisely what role Group Health will play at the new center on South Division. So far, she says, Group Health has worked in a consulting role with Providence, participating in planning and advising the organization on best practices for urgent-care centers.
The partnership won't involve any sort of merger or acquisition, Stanford says.
About 30 people currently work in urgent care at Group Health's Riverfront office, and Stanford says all of those employees will continue to work in some capacity at either the Riverfront facility or another office.
Providence's South Division urgent-care center is expected to be the organization's second such facility. Earlier this month, Robb says, the organization expanded the Providence Medical Group at Hawthorne, located at 551 E. Hawthorne on Spokane's North Side, to include urgent care, including X-ray and laboratory services.
Robb says Providence is considering opening additional urgent-care centers in the Spokane area and is evaluating additional locations, though he declines to disclose other potential sites.
However, in May 2011, Providence Health & Services bought for $4.6 million 11 acres of land north of Interstate 90, between Sullivan and Flora roads, for future development for what was labeled as a "Providence medical center."
For Group Health, Stanford says, the shift away from urgent care will be coupled with expanded hours for primary care at all four of its Spokane-area locations. She says those hours haven't been firmed up, but Group Health is considering having the clinics open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays.
In addition to the Riverfront clinic, Group Health has doctors' offices at 4102 S. Regal, on Spokane's South Hill; at 6002 N. Lidgerwood, on the North Side; and at 14402 E. Sprague, in Spokane Valley.
She says with extended hours and better access to primary-care physicians, many of the patients who go to urgent care now still can be served at Group Health offices.
In general, Stanford says, patients here use urgent care not because they have a higher-acuity medical problem, but because either they can't get an appointment with their primary-care physician or that physician's office is closed.
"Ninety-eight percent of the urgent-care visitors were really just needing primary care," Stanford says.
Generally speaking, a broken arm would be an example of a higher-acuity medical problem that could be handled in an urgent-care center, Stanford says.
For Providence, urgent-care centers are expected to give the organization another venue for treating patients outside of its medical centers; in addition to Sacred Heart, Providence operates Holy Family Hospital, on the North Side.
"Health care is changing in order to meet the needs of the community," Robb says. "All health care is going to be less hospital-centric."
Also, Robb says, urgent-care centers could help to cut down on nonemergent visits to the hospital's emergency rooms. In many cases, he says, people go to the emergency room, which is more expensive than visiting an urgent-care facility or a doctor's office, because they are seeking care and either can't get an appointment elsewhere or because the emergency room is all that's open.
Even so, he says, "It's not the appropriate way to treat strep throat or other nonemergent issues."
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