Care Coordination--Urgent Care and Primary Care: How to Fill the Missing Link

March 10th, 2016 - Urgent Care Centers offer patients convenient after-hours care, but they can disrupt care continuity for patients. Here’s how FirstCare Walk-In Medical Center in Highland, New York is rising to the challenge.

Urgent Care and Primary Care: How to Fill the Missing Link 

Urgent Care Centers (UCCs) fill an important niche in medicine, especially in the case of walk-in care, where illness or injury may not be life threatening, but still requires immediate attention. UCCs offer convenient after-hours and weekend care, and New York State is projected to have nearly 600 UCCs by 2017, according to the United Hospital Fund. The Urgent Care Association of America says that throughout the nation, the rate of growth is accelerating.

However, UCCs present a challenge to health systems and providers when it comes to coordinating care for patients. How can one best manage care for a patient treated in two different settings? FirstCare Walk-in Medical Center in Highland, New York, which offers both primary and urgent care, has found an answer: it uses the HealthlinkNY health information exchange (HIE) to link all providers who care for the patients they have in common.

Thanks to HealthlinkNY, FirstCare Walk-In can access a patient’s medical history from other connected provider organizations—throughout New York State. FirstCare clinicians don’t have to log out of FirstCare’s Electronic Health Record (EHR) system to access patient histories through HealthlinkNY—queries can be made directly through the EHR. As a result, UCC clinicians gain a clearer picture of how the patient’s primary care provider (PCP) has been treating a patient with a chronic or recurring condition, and learns what works and what doesn’t.

HealthlinkNY also helps keep the patient’s primary care provider in the loop. FirstCare can alert the patient’s PCP that the patient has been seen, and the PCP can access information about the encounter through HealthlinkNY. At both the PCP and UCC sites, there is no interruption in the continuity of care.

“The HealthlinkNY HIE facilitates a seamless transition of patient care from one setting to another, greater efficiency at each provider organization, and a much better experience for the patient,” explains Christina Galanis, President and CEO of HealthlinkNY. “For FirstCare, connecting to other providers through HealthlinkNY is a crucial part of providing patients with the best possible care.”

Experts urge other UCCs to follow FirstCare’s lead as one of the first UCC operators to exchange data through an HIE. A 2015 United Hospital Fund report calls for integrating UCCs as well as retail clinics into the broader health ecosystem through “the flow of high-quality information” between UCCs and primary care providers.

FirstCare Contributes Data, Too

In addition to urgent care, FirstCare performs a wide range of medical services at its Ulster County locations: adult and pediatric family medicine, cardiology and digestive disease care, physical therapy, x-ray and laboratory services, and cosmetic dermatology. FirstCare also contributes information about those patients to the HealthlinkNY’s HIE. That allows a patient’s other providers to view encounters, diagnoses, radiology images, prescriptions, lab results, and other vital data.

For FirstCare patients, HealthlinkNY eliminates the hassle of filling out forms and remembering their medications and past medical encounters. That makes using a UCC even more convenient. In the new world of consumer-driven health care, convenience counts.