Models vary but demand growing for urgent care

While area urgent care clinics offer a similar menu of services, the approaches and the origins vary depending on the provider.

Lake After Hours began when Drs. Kevin DiBenedetto and Graham Tujague realized how long it sometimes took the nonemergency patients to be treated when they came to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center’s emergency room.

“We kind of put our heads together, figured there’s got to be a better way to see them,” DiBenedetto said.

Around a year later, the doctors were partners with the Lake in a joint venture.

DiBenedetto said he loved being part of something that made an impact in the community. Not long before the business began, there was lots of media coverage about a doctor’s father who couldn’t find anyone to treat him, other than emergency rooms, on Christmas Eve.

“That’s why we’re open 365 days a year, to make sure people have somewhere else to go,” DiBenedetto said.

Scott Wester, the Lake’s chief executive officer, said the focus on convenience, access and low costs has helped the stand-alone urgent care clinics treat more than 130,000 people a year.

The partnership with Premier Health has been good for patients, the community and the Lake, Wester said. For example, LSU Health’s urgent care clinic in north Baton Rouge, not far from the former Earl K. Long Medical Center, now treats almost as many people every day as the hospital’s ER did before it closed.

The clinic, managed by the Lake and partner Premier Health, opened in April 2013. The clinic started out treating around 40 patients a day. The total is now roughly three times that amount.

Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge’s urgent care clinics are contained inside the existing offices.

Dr. Rubin Patel, who heads Ochsner’s Baton Rouge urgent care services, said having the after-hours clinic in-house allows Ochsner to use its existing office space and to take advantage of its radiology and laboratory services.

If necessary, a patient can get an ultrsound or a CT scan within an hour or two, Patel said.

The clinic’s hours began with 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, with doctors rotating the duty. But this approach didn’t make doctors or patients happy. Not long after Hurricane Katrina, Patel volunteered to begin doing urgent care every day, extending the clinic’s hours from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Ochsner eventually extended the hours. The after-hours clinics at Bluebonnet and Prairieville are now open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, and Bluebonnet also is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

Patel said Ochsner plans to open a Denham Springs location in August.

The Baton Rouge clinic, which used to see 20 or 30 people a day, now averages 40 to 80, depending on the season, Patel said. And people are beginning to realize that Ochsner offers the service.

“Two to three years ago, I recognized everyone because, usually, it was the same individuals that had already known about us,” Patel said.

Now, he frequently runs into patients he doesn’t recognize, Patel said. And patients hardly ever say they didn’t know Ochsner had urgent care.

Baton Rouge Clinic CEO Ed Silvey said the clinic opened its urgent care center at its patients’ urging.

Patients wanted the reassurance of familiar faces and a familiar brand instead of visiting an ER, Silvey said. Baton Rouge Clinic chose a spot just 200 feet away to make it easier for patients to find.

But about 20 percent of the urgent care center’s patients are not patients of the Baton Rouge Clinic, Silvey said. Those patients are helping increase the clinic’s patient base, which is growing by around 20,000 people per year.

Most of the urgent care patients fall between the ages of 18 and 27, although a number of Medicare patients also seek care there, Silvey said. And Baton Rouge Clinic has already gotten requests to open additional locations.

Silvey said the clinic hasn’t picked out any sites, but he expects the clinic will open one or two new urgent care centers in the next 18 months.