It’s a tough flu season out there, which means it’s a tough flu season in every healthcare setting. According to new data from a team of economists, however, many patients find it less so in immediate care settings like urgent care. Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Princeton University, and Northwestern University found that patients who live close to retail clinics are less likely to seek treatment in the emergency room when they experience flu symptoms. The same held true for access to “convenient primary care” (which presumably includes urgent care). Among New Jersey residents who lived 2 miles or less from a retail clinic, ED utilization for flu visits fell 13% compared with those who lived between 2 and 5 miles from a retail clinic. For sore throat and symptoms of eye infections, rates fell 12% and 10%, respectively. And ED visits were 6% lower in patients who presented with concern for urinary tract infection, upper respiratory infection, ear infection, sprains, and strains among the patients who lived closest to retail clinics. In their research letter, the team estimated that lower ED utilization rates similar to those found in their research would save roughly $800,000 per 100 people annually.
When Flu Patients Have a Choice, They Opt for Walk-In Care Over the ED and Primary Care