A recent analysis by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) demonstrates that urgent care centers can divert the need for imaging tests away from emergency departments (EDs) following spinal trauma, leading to considerable cost savings and reducing patient visits to often overcrowded EDs.
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The retrospective study published in Clinical Imaging included all patients who experienced low-acuity trauma and received imaging tests of the cervical spine, which is located in the neck region, at urgent care centers in team’s hospital network from May 1, 2021 to August 31, 2021.
Among 143 patients who sought care at urgent care centers and received x-rays there, only one required a referral to the ED within 24 hours and two required referrals within 7 days. When considering the savings of visiting an urgent care center compared with an ED, the researchers estimated that a total of $145,976 was saved over the study’s 4-month period and $437,928 would be saved per year.
“Cervical spine radiographs were almost always sufficient as part of an urgent care visit to provide appropriate care for the patient, which tells us that urgent care centers are successful in providing low-acuity cervical trauma care, avoiding costly ED visits, and avoiding more costly imaging such as computed tomography, which is the current ordering behavior in EDs for any cervical trauma,” says senior author Marc D. Succi, MD, a radiologist at MGH and an assistant professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School.
“One may ask: would these patients have presented to the ED if there was no urgent care center or would they just have stayed home? While there is no way to know the answer to this based on our dataset, what we do know is that this population needed care in their own opinion, was able to access care at an urgent care, and it was cost-effective. This is analyzing real-world behavior.”
The scientists note that additional research is needed to assess the overall costs saved from using urgent care centers for imaging in patients who seek care following trauma.
“Increasing access to imaging services in the community close to where patients live is an important priority that is supported by these results, both to help patients avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and to reduce healthcare costs for patients and the system as a whole,” says co-author Michael S. Gee, MD, PhD, Deputy Chief of MGH Radiology.
Massachusetts General Hospital release