Objectives: Over the past few years, the United States has seen the rapid growth of dedicated musculoskeletal urgent care centers owned and operated by individual orthopaedic practices. In June of 2014, our practice opened the first dedicated orthopaedic urgent care in the region staffed by physician assistants and supervised by orthopaedic surgeons. Our hypothesis is that such centers can safely improve orthopaedic care for ambulatory orthopaedic injuries, decrease volume for overburdened emergency departments (EDs), reduce wait times and significantly decrease the cost of care while improving access to orthopaedic specialists.
Design: Retrospective review.
Setting: Level 2 trauma center and physician-owned orthopaedic urgent care.
Patients: Consecutive series of patients seen in the hospital ED (n = 87,629) and orthopaedic urgent care (n = 12,722).
Outcomes: ED wait time, total visit time, time until being seen by provider, time until consultation with orthopaedic surgeon, total visit charges, and effect on orthopaedic practice revenue.
Results: During the 12 months of study, 12,722 patients were treated in our urgent care. The average urgent care wait time until being seen by a provider was 17 minutes compared with 45 minutes in hospital ED. Total visit time was 43 minutes in the urgent care and 156 minutes in the hospital ED. Time to being seen by an orthopaedic specialist was 1.2 days for urgent care patients compared with 3.4 days for ED patients. The average charge for an urgent care visit was $461 compared with $8150 in hospital ED. During the course of study, urgent care treatment reduced charges to health care system by $97,819,458. Hospital ED orthopaedic volume did decrease as expected but total ED patient volume remained the same. There was no measureable effect on hospital ED wait times. Hospital surgical case volume did not change over the period of study and the orthopaedic census remained stable. Urgent care construction, marketing, administration, imaging, and labor costs totaled $1,664,445. Urgent care revenue from evaluation and management, imaging, durable medical equipment, and casting totaled $2,577,707. Practice revenue from follow-up care of patients who entered practice through the urgent care totaled $7,657,998.
Conclusion: Dedicated musculoskeletal urgent care clinics operated by orthopaedic surgery practices can be extremely beneficial to patients, physicians, and the health care system. They clearly improve access to care, whereas significantly decreasing overall health care costs for patients with ambulatory orthopaedic conditions and injuries. In addition, they can be financially beneficial to both patients and orthopaedic surgeons alike without cannibalizing local hospital surgical volumes.
Level of evidence: Therapeutic Level III.