The impact of an oncology urgent care center on health-care utilization

JNCI Cancer Spectr. 2024 Feb 29;8(2):pkae009. doi: 10.1093/jncics/pkae009.


Introduction: Studies suggest that many emergency department (ED) visits and hospitalizations for patients with cancer may be preventable. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has implemented changes to the hospital outpatient reporting program that targets acute care in-treatment patients for preventable conditions. Oncology urgent care centers aim to streamline patient care. Our cancer center developed an urgent care center called the direct referral unit in 2011.

Methods: We abstracted visits to our adjacent hospital ED and direct referral unit from January 2014 to June 2018. Patient demographics, cancer and visit diagnoses, visit charges, and 30-day therapy utilization were assessed.

Results: An analysis of 13 114 visits demonstrated that increased direct referral unit utilization was associated with decreased monthly ED visits (P < .001). Common direct referral unit visit diagnoses were dehydration, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and fever. Patients receiving active cancer treatment more frequently presented to the direct referral unit (P < .001). The average charges were $2221 for the direct referral unit and $10 261 for the ED.

Conclusion: The association of decreased ED visits with increased direct referral unit utilization demonstrates the potential for urgent care centers to reduce acute care visits. Many patients presented to our direct referral unit with preventable conditions, and these visits were associated with considerable cost savings, supporting its use as a cost-effective method to reduce acute care costs.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • United States