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Why do patients attend general practitioner-led urgent care centres with minor illnesses?

The demand for urgent care is increasing, and the pressure on emergency departments is of significant concern. General practitioner (GP)-led urgent care centres are a new model of care developed to divert patients to more appropriate primary care environments. In a study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, I along with colleagues from Imperial College London explored why patients with minor illnesses choose to attend an urban urgent care centre.

We used a self-completed questionnaire among patients aged 18 years or over (N=649) who were triaged with a ‘minor illness’ on arrival at an urgent care centre co-located with an emergency department in London. The median age of participants was 29 years. 58% (649/1112) of patients attending the centre with minor illness during the study period took part. 72% of participants were registered with a GP; more women (59%) attended than men; and the majority of participants rated themselves as healthy (81%). Access to care (58%) was a key reason for using the service as was expectation of receiving prescription medication (69%). GP dissatisfaction influenced 10% of participants in their decision to attend. 68% did not contact their GP in the previous 24 hours before attending.

We concluded that the GP-led urgent care centre was attracting healthy young adults, who were mostly registered with a GP and used services because of convenience and ease of access rather than satisfaction levels with their GP. An expansion of primary care capacity for patients with acute minor illnesses could reduce the number of patient who see their own practice rather than attend an urgent care centre. 

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