Health care reform spurs urgent care centers

HOUSTON – You may have noticed more and more freestanding emergency rooms popping up in the Houston area.

Well, you can soon expect to see many more.

With health care reform on the horizon, it is becoming an attractive and convenient option for families.

The spacious waiting room at the newest MedSpring location in Katy seems like a waste considering urgent care facilities like this one claim to slash those dreaded emergency room wait times.

"We know families are busy now and we know all of our time is very valuable," said MedSpring Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jon Belsher. "So we want to get you in and out as quickly as we can. Most of our visits are actually under 45 minutes."

Dr. Belsher isn't surprised to learn a recent study by Kaiser Health found urgent care centers around the country have doubled to more than 400 in the last four years.

Houston leads the trend with 41 "freestanding" emergency rooms.

Of their 14 locations, MedSpring has five in the Houston area, including River Oaks, Memorial, Kingwood and Sugar Land.

More are on the way with the timing coinciding with health care reform.

"Many times, a lot of the more attractive plans will have high deductibles if you will and accordingly, when a family has a high deductible plan, they're going to be looking for the most cost effective place to get their care,"Dr. Belsher added.

These facilities are not for conditions threatening "life and limb," but rather cuts and scrapes, broken bones and the like.

The costs are competitive, and sometimes even lower than traditional ERs.

"Our copays are a fraction of what a copay would be in an emergency room," Dr. Belsher explained. "What's great about a center like MedSpring is we do not charge a facility fee and that facility fee can be an extra cost to a family when they visit an emergency room."

As health care reform nears, MedSpring is taking the unique step of extending primary care to families, managing chronic conditions while also focusing on prevention and screening.