UNC Rex Hospital opens 5th urgent care clinic in Triangle

UNC Rex Hospital opened its fifth urgent care clinic in the Triangle as the area’s hospitals continue expanding into the booming clinic market to alleviate congestion in their emergency rooms

Rex Express Care is at 3050 Duraleigh Road, near the main hospital in Raleigh. Rex has moved its pain management center and sleep lab into the same building.

For patients, urgent care clinics offer cheaper prices and shorter waits for minor conditions, such as burns, cuts, rashes, bug bites and sprains. Insurance companies, in a bid to keep down costs, increasingly steer patients to these clinics, the majority of which are operated by independent health care chains not affiliated with local hospitals.

Running their own clinics is a way for hospitals to offer services that are increasingly in demand in an era of rising health care costs. Even for people with health insurance, high-deductible health insurance plans can now require people to pay several thousand dollars out of pocket. An urgent care clinic can be 10 times less expensive than an emergency room, offering similar services as a hospital on routine medical matters.

“It’s another entry point into the health care system,” said Rex spokesman Alan Wolf. “Hopefully they will have a good experience and they will want to go back to other UNC Rex doctors.”

The number of urgent care clinics and retail clinics has increased in recent years, growing from 8,000 in 2008 to 9,3000 today, according to the American Academy for Urgent Care Medicine. A retail clinic is housed in a Walgreens or Target and typically staffed by nurses, whereas an urgent care clinic offers X-rays and includes physicians.

In the Triangle, Duke University Health System operates five urgent care clinics open 12 hours a day plus one orthopedic urgent care. WakeMed Health & Hospitals has two clinics – one in Cary and the other in Raleigh – open 12 hours a day. Its Raleigh clinic is on Blue Ridge Road, near Rex Hospital.

The new Rex clinic is open 11 hours a day and employs 10 people, including nurses, nurse practitioners and physicians. Rex’s clinics provide cost estimates if the patient calls and provides the procedure name, CPT number and health insurance information.

Under federal law, hospitals can’t redirect patients away from emergency rooms to urgent care clinics; instead they rely on advertising to make the public aware of clinics as a cheaper alternative to the ER. People with non-threatening conditions who end up in the ER are often forced to wait for hours and end up charged high fees for routine treatment.

Wolf said Rex is likely to build more urgent care clinics to meet growing demand.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski