The state legislature in Virginia just passed a bill that enables ambulances to transport patients directly to 24-hour urgent care centers and other nonhospital healthcare facilities when clinically appropriate. While clearly that indicates recognition that urgent care centers offer care on par with the ED, short of life- or limb-threatening emergencies, the interesting thing is that only one urgent care operator, Kaiser Permanents, runs facilities that are open 24 hours a day in the Commonwealth. Likewise, the idea behind the new law—to provide wider access to immediate care in medically underserved areas—is a noble one on the surface, but the 24-hour Kaiser facilities in Virginia are concentrated in the suburbs of Washington, DC, an area in which residents have ample access to hospitals. Regulations surrounding the legislation, such as what constitutes “underserved,” are still to be finalized by state health officials. While the law could be seen as an incentive for other urgent care operators to start offering 24-hour care in areas that really are underserved, in the meantime some urgent care insiders are wondering exactly whom the new law is designed to benefit.
Virginia Lawmakers OK Ambulance Transport Directly to Urgent Care—but There’s a Catch