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Arizona Urgent Care Facilities See Increased Demand As Coronavirus Cases Fill Hospitals

Published: Wednesday, December 30, 2020 - 11:57am
Updated: Thursday, December 31, 2020 - 9:43am
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MARK BRODIE: Another residual effect of the spiking [COVID-19] numbers on our health care system is the massive demand we're seeing at urgent care facilities here as people turn to them instead of emergency rooms. Dr. Devin Minior is chief medical officer over Banner's urgent care facilities in the state. He spoke more about what they're seeing and why with our co-host, Lauren Gilger.

DEVIN MINIOR: Yeah, so typically this time of year, we see an increase in volumes typically due to the flu season and all the snowbirds coming in. This year's been unique because we've had a very mild flu season. And actually this time of year, right now, we're seeing all time highs across all of our urgent cares.

LAUREN GILGER: Wow. Is that resulting in longer wait times? Like, what are the residual effects of that?

MINIOR: Yeah, due to these high volumes this time of year, unfortunately, at certain times of the day, there can be wait times that are a little bit longer for our patients. We take both appointments and walk-ins. So again, depending on when that patient shows up, they may have to wait a little bit longer.

GILGER: So without sort of speculating here, is this related to the pandemic and in what way do you think? Like, do you think people are scared to go to the emergency department right now so they're going to an urgent care instead?

MINIOR: Yeah, you know, I work in the urgent cares, but I also practice clinically in the emergency department. And we've seen a little bit of a downtick in our emergency department volumes. And patients a lot of times are just afraid to go into the emergency department — they're not sure what they're going to get exposed to. And a lot of this is driving patients to the urgent care setting. You know, that's really the value for the urgent care is at least in our health system, as we want to get the right patient in the right care setting. And the vast majority of these patients are more appropriately cared, actually, in the ambulatory setting in an urgent care. And so it opens up the emergency departments to really care for those appropriate emergencies and those patients that really need to be admitted into the hospital.

GILGER: OK, how much of the demand do you think has to do also with testing, right? Like, urgent cares are one of the only places where you can go if you need to get a test right away.

MINIOR: Yeah, a good chunk of those patients every day that we're seeing are just individuals, whether they be symptomatic or asymptomatic, and they've had a high risk exposure and they just need to be tested. And we offer that testing to the community. So every day a good proportion of those patients just need testing.

GILGER: Wow. So can you quantify at this point like how much testing your urgent care facilities are taking on right now and how much the demand for that has gone up in particular?

MINIOR: Yeah, so this has actually been relatively high since we've offered testing over the last six plus months. But certainly during this third surge of [COVID-19], it's gone up proportionally. It's tough for me to quantitize on any given day, but it's a fairly large percentage do just need that testing.

GILGER: So how are you sort of meeting the demand there then? Or I mean, you run quite a few urgent cares around the state. Do you have the staff you need to meet this kind of demand or are you increasing resources at this point?

MINIOR: Yeah, so a lot of this is creativity around staffing. One is just hiring additional staff, whether that be providers or [medical assistants] MAs or radiology techs, as well as redeploying individuals within the health system that maybe don't have a, typically a clinical role. Can we potentially use them for a period of time in our urgent cares to answer phones or to assist with other, other things that need to get done? And so, again, we've just had to be creative in the system.

GILGER: Yeah. So let's talk a little bit about the broader effects of this, right? Like a lot of this, I think is happening at urgent cares because of the role that urgent cares play in our health system. Do you think this demand will continue as the pandemic continues or even after because people will look at urgent cares in a different way?

MINIOR: Yeah, I hope so. You know, one of the challenges historically is that patients have not been able to get into their primary care doctor, they've often gone to the emergency department for kind of low acuity care. And that's not really the right care setting. Urgent care is really much more appropriate. And the great thing about urgent care is that it's really on demand. So you don't need an appointment necessarily, you can just show up and get that care. And it's, you know, typically going to be high quality care, very similar to what you get from a primary care doctor.

GILGER: I wonder, though, is there, is there a concern in the medical field and in the work that you do that something's lost in the sort of lack of continuum of care with — without seeing a primary care doctor for things like that, especially as we see these kinds of things happening to people who already have medical conditions and they're more susceptible to bad, bad outcomes from [COVID-19]?

MINIOR: Yeah, I think the perfect scenario is every patient's able to get in the same day with their primary care. But we know that with a national shortage of primary care, patients are often delayed days, up to weeks to get into their primary care. And if somebody gets sick today, well, they want to be seen today. And so this is just an opportunity to kind of get them in that day, get their issue addressed. And what's nice being part of a large health system is that we can then plug that patient in downstream with primary care that will have access to our [electronic medical records] EMR record.

GILGER: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Especially because in a pandemic, right, it is urgent that you get a test and find out before you infect many other people.

MINIOR: Yeah, exactly. We can get them, we can get them tested, we can get them an answer typically in 24 to 48 hours of, with a result from a test and then get them plugged in again with primary care in a few days if they need to be seen further.

GILGER: So it sounds like the role of urgent cares has really been, been highlighted or made even more important as a result of this pandemic.

MINIOR: And a critical role in our overall health system response to the [COVID-19] pandemic. I'm very confident that our volumes will remain high. And, you know, certainly I think the community has realized the value that we offer to them to, to meet their health care needs.

GILGER: All right. That is Dr. Devin Minior, the chief medical officer over Banner's urgent care centers here in the state. Dr. Minior, thank you so much for coming on The Show to talk this through.

MINIOR: Thank you so much.

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