Around 17% of all emergency department visits in the US could be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centres, saving $4.4bn a year, according to a study by RAND Corporation.
Minor infections, strains, fractures and lacerations could be safely treated outside the hospitals, according to the study.
RAND researchers analysed information from people who visited emergency departments, retail medical clinics and urgent care centres in 2006, and evaluated the severity of injuries and illnesses seen in the emergency department.
Based upon the findings, the researchers estimated that 13.7% of all emergency department visits could be treated in retail medical clinics, and 13.4% could be treated at urgent care centres.
However, this decreases to 8% and 9% respectively when the analysis was limited to emergency visits that occurred when these facilities are typically open.
In total, about 27.1% of all emergency department visits could be treated at retail clinics or urgent care centres, but only 16.8% of the visits can be managed when retail clinics or urgent care centres are open.
Robin Weinick, the study’s lead author, said the patient traffic to hospital emergency departments has been growing, but a significant proportion of patients could be safely treated in these alternative settings.
“Diverting these patients to alternatives such as retail clinics and urgent care centres could shorten their waiting times and save money,” Weinick said.