Urgent care often better option, but not always available

May 27, 2011

In a county of 290,000, there ought to be someplace other than the emergency room at the lone hospital where one can seek medical attention for injuries or illnesses that are serious but not life-threatening, even in the middle of the night.

The ER invariably presents the most expensive health care option in these situations. It's expensive for insurance companies, patients and those who must foot the bill when patients can't pay. It taxes hospital resources and can even compromise care for those in greater need of immediate attention.

A May 23 forum hosted by the Howard County Citizens Association, http://www.explorehoward.com/news/84762/forum-educates-howard-county-emergency-care-options/ spotlighted a different option that is becoming more prevalent but often doesn't come to mind when one is hurt or sick: the urgent-care facility.

These walk-in clinics with extended hours, X-ray machines and onsite labs are becoming more common, but none of the dozen or so now in Howard County are open 24 hours.

As one insurance industry representative at the forum noted, many companies maintain 24-hour toll-free numbers people can call for information or medical questions. But when one has a laceration or sprain, one's impulse will be to seek treatment, not to go to the phone. As long as no local urgent-care facility is open all night, the ER at Howard County General Hospital will continue to see patients that don't belong there.

We urge the Ulman administration and the county Economic Development Authority — which does have a stake in this issue, when you think about it — to pursue a new urgent-care facility that will be open 24 hours or the expansion of hours at an existing operation.

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