- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) - Susan Maldonado doesn’t have time to spend all day in a crowded doctor’s office or emergency room.

She works full time and goes to school full time, so her time is at a premium. But the Bridgeport resident is sick, and has been for a while, with symptoms that include a high fever.

Looking for some relief, she went to the new Doctors Express Urgent Care clinic on Boston Avenue in Bridgeport, which opened March 3.

For many people, urgent care clinics provide a lower-cost, more accessible alternative to doctors’ offices and hospital emergency rooms. They’re typically open longer hours than most doctors’ offices, and are open on weekends.

Maldonado said that kind of convenience is part of why she picked the Boston Avenue clinic. It’s also a two-minute drive from her home and she found the atmosphere of the office, which sits in a strip mall near the Boston Avenue Burger King, a more pleasant environment than most doctors’ offices.

“It’s not crowded,” Maldonado said. “The people aren’t rude. It’s nice.”

It seems that others share her interest in convenient health care, as urgent care centers have been popping up at a brisk rate in recent years. According to the American Academy of Urgent Care, the number of these walk-in, stand-alone urgent care facilities has increased from 8,000 to 9,300 within the past five years, and about 50 to 100 new clinics open every year.

These clinics provide a variety of medical services, from treating colds and the flu, to setting broken bones to conducting school- or employer-mandated physicals. Some say the clinics are needed in today’s health care landscape, as they help keep uninsured and underinsured people from seeking costly care in the emergency room.

“The hospitals are full of people who don’t really need (emergency room) care,” said Yvonne Lederer, market director for the Doctor’s Express Bridgeport sites.

A 2009 RAND Corp. study backs up her statement, showing that 14 to 27 percent of emergency department visits could be handled by urgent care centers or retail clinics, saving up to $4.4 billion a year in health costs.

Doctors Express, which has more than 140 locations in 26 states, is one of several urgent care chains in Connecticut. In addition to the Boston Avenue site, three more Doctors Express offices are expected to open in greater Bridgeport in the near future.

The Boston Avenue location will be managed by Dr. Steven Heffer, a former emergency room physician from Greenwich Hospital. Heffer said he lives Fairfield and liked the idea of working in his community and was interested in the urgent care model.

“In the emergency room, you see a patient once, and that’s the end of it,” Heffer said. Urgent care centers, however, become part of the fabric of the communities they serve.

Other urgent care chains in the state include 203 Urgent Care, which began in 2009 and now has six clinics throughout the state including spots in Norwalk, Orange and West Haven.

Dr. Jasdeep “J.D.” Sidana, chief executive officer of 203 Urgent Care, said when the company opened its first site in Orange in 2009, there were only two other clinics nearby - one in Milford and one in Stratford.

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