Source: San Francisco Chronicle

By Victoria Colliver

August 1, 2016

A former RadioShack on Market Street in the Castro neighborhood has been transformed into an urgent care center, opening Monday, that will be staffed by San Francisco’s Dignity Health. A few blocks away, where a gas station once stood, an urgent care center opened last week.

These centers, alternatives to long waits in emergency departments or waiting weeks to get an appointment with a primary doctor, are a growing trend to treat people with non-life-threatening conditions at lower costs and greater convenience to patients as well as the health care system.

On Monday, Dignity, California’s largest private hospital network and one of the largest health care systems in the country, is opening the first of 12 Bay Area urgent care centers it will run with GoHealth Urgent Care, an Atlanta company that operates centers in New York City and Portland, Ore. The San Francisco center at 2288 Market marks the company’s first in California.

“We look at the amount of money Americans pay for health care compared to other nations in the world, and we pay too much and get too little,” said Dr. Todd Strumwasser, Dignity Health’s senior vice president of operations. “The way to change that is by reducing waste. This is something we’re trying to accomplish with our urgent care centers.”

Direct Urgent Care, a Berkeley startup, opened its fourth center at 1998 Market on Thursday. Its others are in Berkeley, Oakland and Mountain View.

There are nearly 7,000 urgent care centers nationwide, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. The trade group said this figure includes only those centers with extended hours that can provide X-rays, lab work and other urgent services. This distinguishes them from the retail centers found in large chain stores, pharmacies and malls that have limited services such as flu shots and are typically not staffed by doctors.

Source: Crain’s New York Business

By Jonathan LaMantia

May 20, 2016

Health experts say urgent care centers have increased in popularity in recent years, capitalizing on reforms imposed by the federal Affordable Care Act that make it less lucrative for hospitals to treat patients in expensive emergency rooms. Many hospital systems, like Sutter Health, operate their own urgent care centers. Others are independent or work with a local provider.

“Urgent cares are popping up in the last few years. They’re a great alternative” to the emergency room, said Steven Rousso, a principal with HFS Consultants, an Oakland firm that works with hospitals and centers.

Add to that the increasing patient co-payments for emergency care and a shortage of primary care doctors, and urgent care centers become an even more appealing option.

“There are all these new models where the hospitals are more at risk, and it’s less expensive to treat (patients) in an urgent care setting,” said Maribeth Shannon, a program director who tracks health care markets for the California HealthCare Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Oakland.

“Where there used to be (financial) incentives to get patients into the ER or into a bed in the hospital, there are more incentives to treat patients as economically and conveniently as possible,” she said.

Shannon said that Southern California and other parts of the country have been quicker to catch on to the trend than Northern California, but that is starting to change.

Several large companies operate hundreds of urgent care centers nationwide, including Concentra and US HealthWorks, the latter also owned by Dignity Health but specializing in occupational health. But smaller firms like Direct Urgent Care and Stat Med Urgent Care, which operates in Concord and Lafayette, have entered the market.

“The premise of the urgent care business is that the health care system is broken,” said Dr. Caesar Djavaherian, who specializes in emergency medicine and founded Berkeley’s Direct Urgent Care in 2013. “More urgent cares are popping up around the country. It’s to provide much more cost-effective and convenient health care to communities.”

Djavaherian said Direct’s centers strive to appeal to tech-savvy patients by allowing them to check in or track wait times online and being the first to use the Eko Core Digital Stethoscope, which uploads information to Direct Urgent Care’s electronic medical record. The stethoscope is made by Berkeley’s Eko Devices Inc., and the company’s records and billing portal was developed by Drchrono, a Mountain View firm.

“We’ve been using our location in Silicon Valley to partner with really innovative health technology companies,” Djavaherian said. “It’s exciting as a doctor to think outside the old-way-of-delivering-medicine box.”

GoHealth Urgent Care also has some high-tech flourishes, such as a tablet check-in and large, flat-screen monitors in the spacious exam rooms for doctors to share information and view X-rays with patients. The rooms have smart glass, which allows the walls to go from clear to opaque with the switch of a button.

But GoHealth officials say one of the company’s primary appeals is the strategy of working with existing health care providers in the region. GoHealth provides the administrative staff while Dignity Health, which operates Saint Francis and St. Mary’s medical centers in the city, provides the doctors, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants and other health professionals.

“It immediately gives a little bit of extra credibility to something new in developing centers in the area,” said Chuck Kruger, president of GoHealth’s Northern California region.

The center accepts health insurance, and Kruger said the staff will help uninsured patients who qualify to enroll in Medi-Cal or Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. The center’s electronic health records will integrate seamlessly with Dignity Health’s system, while patients who use other providers may request digital records they can transfer to their doctors.

Kruger and others in the field note that patients experiencing potentially life-threatening conditions should not be treated at an urgent care center and should head to a full-scale emergency department.

Urgent care centers are designed to treat minor injuries or illnesses like sprained ankles, urinary tract infections and mild asthma. Patients who arrive with serious symptoms are transferred to a nearby hospital for treatment.

GoHealth has aggressive expansion plans and is set to open centers in Glen Park and Cole Valley in late September, followed by additional openings in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties over the year.

While the centers take same-day appointments, they rely heavily on walk-ins and are typically located in urban locations with heavy foot traffic and transit access.

“Our model is very much neighborhood, community-based, and this is a great example of that,” said Kruger as he walked through the Castro center a few days before the opening.

Victoria Colliver is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: vcolliver@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @vcolliver

GoHealth Urgent Care’s Castro center will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends.