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Back in 2014, Forbes magazine reported that almost none of the urgent care centers in the U.S. were dedicated to providing orthopedic services. Only three years later, the urgent care industry has seen a marked rise in orthopedic urgent care centers, from large franchises like OrthoNow to smaller, locally focused centers.

As ortho urgent care centers grow in popularity, do urgent care owners need to add these types of facilities to their practices to stay competitive?

Orthopedic Urgent Care vs. Regular Urgent Care

Both types of urgent care centers treat the same orthopedic injuries. “Many minor breaks and sprains … can be treated at an urgent care clinic,” said orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harvey E. Montijo of The Center for Bone & Joint Surgery of the Palm Beaches in an interview with The Palm Beach Post. “Basically, as long as the break isn’t a ‘deformity’ — such as what happens when there’s an ‘open fracture’ where you can see the bone or it’s poking through the skin — then you can go to an urgent care.”

However, that’s really where the similarities between the facilities end. Ortho urgent care centers tend to be located inside larger orthopedic facilities, serving as the front door to an orthopedic practice. Conversely, traditional urgent care centers are typically located in retail spaces and refer patients to the appropriate community health care providers, such as imaging centers or orthopedic specialists. Within the health care system space, some hospitals are opening ortho urgent cares in addition to their conventional urgent care centers as a means of funneling patients to hospital services.

This means there’s certainly competition for walk-in orthopedic services, so how does that impact traditional urgent care practices?

Does Your Practice Need an Ortho Urgent Care?

According to the Urgent Care Association of America’s 2016 benchmarking report, the most common diagnoses at urgent care centers in 2015 were acute upper respiratory infection, acute sinusitis, acute pharyngitis, cough and acute bronchitis. Given that orthopedic cases typically make up less than 10 to 15 percent of urgent care visits, there’s no need to add a facility dedicated to orthopedic urgent care to your practice.

That’s not to say ortho shouldn’t be a part of your strategy, however. Providing orthopedic services at your urgent care center allows you to capture a patient base that comes with opportunities to grow your practice’s referral relationships. And, according to a study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma, orthopedic services at urgent care centers is good for the U.S. health care system as a whole. It decreases patient volume in overburdened emergency departments, reduces patient wait times for orthopedic services, and decreases the cost of orthopedic care.

The key for urgent care owners is to make sure your urgent care practice’s orthopedic services are a part of your marketing and advertising strategy, especially if an ortho urgent care opens in any of your service areas. Keeping your orthopedic services top-of-mind for your patients so they know they can get the same quality and level of care at your facility as the ortho urgent care will make them choose your facility when the need arises.

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