Are emergency physicians best served to staff urgent care centers?

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Long wait times in emergency departments have led to a resurgence of urgent care centers.

The LA Times has a piece on the phenomenon, and notes that many of these facilities have opened up in suburbs, where patients with insurance tend to live.

By skimming off the profitable and straight-forward cases, emergency departments have generally taken a disparaging view of their urgent care brethren. Sandra Schneider, vice president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, says that, “As it is now, anybody who has an MD or license to practice could put up a sign and say ‘I’m an urgent-care doctor.’ If you’re having a heart attack, you really want an emergency physician there, because that’s what they’re trained to do.”

Sounds like a turf war is brewing.

An urgent care physician shot back with an interesting argument, saying that emergency doctors are, in fact, not the best trained to treat urgent care problems. He found that, “emergency physicians, who tended to rely heavily on expensive and time-consuming labs and tests, were not always as fast at diagnosing and treating as internal medicine or family practitioners.”

That’s sure to raise some eyebrows within the emergency physician community.

As for my take, I’ve met both internists and ED physicians who order a lot of tests, and doctors in both fields who don’t. If anything, defensive medicine may be more prevalent in the ER, which gives the impression that doctors there order more studies.

But that’s no reason why they can’t staff an urgent care clinic.

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