Rising number of after-hours care centers pose problems


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER


Posted on October 18, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 18 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- Last week KVUE reported on the growing number of stand-alone emergency rooms popping up all over Central Texas. That growth is leading to questions, specifically, what's the best option for parents who have ill or injured children?

Imagine it's after-hours. Your child gets hurt -- maybe a bad cut or fall. In addition to dealing with the stress of the situation, parents must now make the suddenly complicated decision of where to take their child for the best and most cost effective treatment.

Kai Slockers, 2, has a bandage on his forehead. He got hurt when he reached for a book right before bedtime.

"He slipped and fell," said Aki Slockers, Kai's mother. "He gashed his head open, and there was blood everywhere."

Kai's parents did the best they could at home.

"Once we cleaned that out we could tell this was deep, and still bleeding," said Slockers. "It just wasn't something we could leave alone, and we needed to get him somewhere."

Slockers had to find a place open at 9 p.m.

"You have to make those decisions quickly, because you have a kid who's bleeding, and your heart's racing," she said.

They had to decide between a traditional emergency room, a stand-alone ER, an urgent care center, a convenience clinic at a drug store, or an after-hours care office.

"It's absolutely confusing," said Slockers. "On the one hand, it's great that there's so many choices. But the difference between them, I couldn't tell you."

Ari Brown, M.D., the founder of 411 Pediatrics, says the choices can be confusing. Especially if a child is involved.

"In some of those situations the providers are not necessarily pediatric trained specialists," said Brown. "That's really important when we're dealing with the care of a child, because kids are not just little adults. They have different medical issues."

Cost may also be a factor. Traditional ER's and stand-alone ER's charge emergency room prices. If Kai had needed stitches he may have been sent to an ER. Instead, his wound could be glued shut with Dermabond. Staff treated him at a less-costly urgent care center close to home.

"He was home in an hour," said Slockers. "It was amazing. We were so glad we had that."

Dr. Brown says the pediatrician's office is usually the best place to start when parents are seeking answers to after-hours treatment center options.