- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - The push by health care systems toward urgent care has led to a booming operation of clinics in western South Dakota, where two existing operations will soon move to larger facilities to accommodate the surge in patients.

The expansion follows a national trend being driven by long waits for doctor’s appointments, overcrowded emergency rooms and an increasing patient demand for accessible, after-hours care, the Rapid City Journal (http://bit.ly/1kVkenq ) reported on Sunday.

Four standalone clinics, including the two that are expanding, already see patients in Rapid City and a fifth one is being built. Other medical centers have urgent care arms, too.

The health care systems don’t expect the number of patients to stall any time soon, but they do vie for them. At least one clinic posts wait times on a digital billboard. Another focuses on comfort and convenience by providing chairs in waiting rooms that have tablets attached and an area where children can play video games.

“Urgent care is a natural evolution. What we are doing is taking our services out into neighborhoods and trying to provide a more convenient setting for health services,” said Mike McGrath, director of clinical service for Regional Health physicians. “The convenience and flexibility of urgent care facilities is the way of the future.”

The chief operating officer of the Black Hills Urgent Care, Dr. Wayne Anderson, said urgent care facilities are designed to help people who can’t see their primary doctor right away, but have sudden symptoms that are not severe enough to be a high priority at the emergency room.

“If you arrive at the emergency room with a sore throat and two ambulances just got there before you, you might sit there for five hours,” said Anderson, who has worked in the field of medicine for 33 years.

Dr. Alexia Gillen, a former primary care physician who now works in the Regional Urgent Care center, said the nation’s new health care law could result in more visitors to urgent care clinics. She said people who were previously uninsured and have chronic ailments could go to the clinics if they aren’t sure where to start.

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com