“The number of urgent care centers across the country has increased over the past decade and more will continue to open,” said Dr. Robert Kimball, president of the board for the Urgent Care Association of America. “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will insure more than 34 million previously uninsured Americans by 2019. Those people will want medical care, which means the demand for all health care services will only continue to rise.”
Kimball said it is important to understand the differences between urgent care and emergency centers prior to seeking medical care.
Urgent care centers accommodate patients with minor conditions, such as sprains, the flu, colds, infections and minor stitches. Freestanding emergency centers or hospital-based emergency rooms should only be visited in the event of a life-threatening situation, Kimball said.
Health care providers, such as the North Cypress Medical Center and Houston Methodist Hospital System, made efforts in 2015 to better serve Cypress residents by opening emergency care centers in the area.
North Cypress Medical Center opened two centers targeting major master-planned communities. An ER and imaging center set to serve Towne Lake residents opened on Barker Cypress Road on May 4, and another stand-alone ER opened Oct. 5 on Mason Road to serve Fairfield residents.
The Fairfield location includes a physicians plaza, emergency care and outpatient imaging lab. The Towne Lake center offers outpatient testing and radiology services and includes 20,000 square feet of office space, separating it from typical ERs.
“It is an emergency room, but it really addresses a number of different needs a community might have,” said Dr. Mounang Desai with North Cypress Medical Center.
Houston Methodist opened its emergency care center Nov. 3 on the Hwy. 290 frontage road near the intersection of Fairfield Creek. Farther up the road, a First Choice Emergency Room is under construction in the Fairfield Towne Center.
The Houston Methodist ECC opening marks the first major effort by the hospital system to reach Cypress beyond its Willowbrook Hospital. ECC Manager Carly Espinosa said by offering pharmacy services, outpatient imaging and CT scanning on a 64-slice scanner, Houston Methodist will distinguish its center from independent competitors in the area.
“There’s a lot of saturation in the market,” she said. “I think our honest business practices will bring people here. This is an outlet to give Willowbrook a release and serve those who decide to choose Houston Methodist.”
Urgent care centers
Several urgent care centers have opened in Cy-Fair over the past year, including a Cy-Fair Medical Center Urgent Care on West Road in December 2014 and a RediClinic on Spring Cypress Road in January.
“Traditional ERs serve an important purpose, but urgent cares are a more convenient option for certain needs, often available at a cost five to 10 times less,” said Dr. Juliet Breeze, founder of Next Level Urgent Care.
An average visit to an urgent care center is roughly $155 compared to $750 to $1,250 for a typical ER visit, Kimball said. Wait times can vary from a few minutes to several hours.
Urgent care facilities, emergency rooms and hospitals all serve a different purpose, said Scott Barbe, CEO of the Memorial Hermann Cypress Hospital under construction on
Hwy. 290. With Phase 1 of the project set to open next spring—a convenient care center catering to both urgent and not-so-urgent needs—Barbe said he is not concerned about the prospect of an overabundance of options opening in the area.
“I think the comprehensive nature of services behind one door will make us very attractive,” he said.