LOCK HAVEN - The fact that emergency rooms are often used by patients who should be seen by a primary care physician contributes to the rising costs for health care.
Medical clinics staffed by health care professionals can accommodate patients who come for colds, sore throats, minor cuts and wounds, sprains and infections but usually are not open during regular working hours, making it impossible for many people to access them.
That's why Geisinger Health System has begun offering Careworks After-Hours Clinics throughout the region including the recently opened Lock Haven site.
Registered nurse Theresa Hershberger works the check-in area at Geisinger After-Hours Clinic in Lock Haven. Geisinger has extended hours at a number of its clinics to allow for patient access for extended periods. The Lock Haven site is located at 955 Bellefonte Ave.
"The whole point is to keep people out of the emergency room due to high costs," said Geisinger Careworks CEO Ken Berndt.
On a recent Friday evening, a number of people were observed showing up at the clinic for various health concerns.
"It's busy after work when parents get home and find out their kids are sick," Berndt explained.
He said the clinics can be especially busy during the winter months when influenza and colds become more common.
"We get a lot of pink eye and upper respiratory illnesses this time of year," he said.
And in the summer, it's allergies, bites and rashes.
Careworks After-Hours clinics are located within other Geisinger facilities, usually at standard physicians' offices.
The Lock Haven site can be found inside one such site at 955 Bellefonte Ave.
Staffed Monday to Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., it features a reception area, exam rooms and laboratory space.
No appointment is necessary.
"Careworks Clinics do not require an appointment, are conveniently located, involve only a short wait time, are open evenings and weekends and most of all, they are affordable," Berndt explained. "We bill insurance and patients only pay their primary care co-pay."
All types of insurance are accepted and discounted fees can be paid by those with no coverage.
Berndt noted that over-utilization of emergency rooms are a serious concern, placing financial burdens on patients, health insurers and providers.
Cutting down on emergency room visits can also help avoid over-crowding of ERs.
"You have to have access seven days a week, and it's got to be affordable," he said. "And, they have to be able to get in when they can get in."
The Lock Haven after-hours site is conveniently located right in the city on a busy thoroughfare, making it easy to access for many people, Berndt noted.
"We like to be in high traffic areas," he said.
It is expected that the site will serve about 15 patients during the week and another 20 to 25 during weekends.
Hours could be extended if the clinic draws beyond those numbers.
Geisinger recently opened another after-hours clinic in Mount Pocono.
"We hope to allow health care access at a low cost 24 hours," Berndt said.