TMC Employees Using E.R. More Judiciously

Tucson Medical Center staff members came upon an interesting statistic among reams of data as the hospital prepared for a new model designed to help patients stay healthier and avoid hospitalization.

TMC employees were using the emergency room too often for afflictions that didn’t seem to rise to the level of true emergencies.

In 2010, approximately 10.5 percent of all employee visits to the emergency room appeared as though they might have warranted a visit to a less-acute setting, including 57 visits for sprains or strains, and 20 visits for migraines.

Chief Medical Officer Jason Krupp said those numbers aren’t surprising, since they match up with other findings nationally.

In 2011, a study by Thomson Reuters Healthcare found that hospital employees spent 10 percent more on healthcare than the general population, and were 22 percent more likely to visit an emergency room.

Although researchers did not ferret out the causes for the disparity, they speculated that easy access played a role.

Krupp said it goes to show the work that has to be done in the larger community. “It really speaks to the community’s challenge. If we as hospital employees don’t have a clear grasp of all the options that are available, you can only imagine the confusion that must be out there among people who are less familiar with the system.”

Those numbers, however, are beginning to turn around as hospital leaders – and particularly President and CEO Judy Rich in her employee town hall forums – have shared other options with workers.

In 2011, potentially inappropriate visits to the emergency room were down 1.5 percent. Strains and migraines were no longer leaders on the list, either, although upper respiratory ailments and strep throat were common triggers for visits.

Rich has been so proficient at spreading the word that the nearby urgent care run by Saguaro Physicians, TMC’s employed physician group, is exploring expansion.

Donna Bergman, Saguaro’s administrator, said the urgent care used to see one TMC employee a week. “It was like the best-kept secret that as a TMC employee, you could go across the street and be seen,” Bergman said.

Now, it’s up to 9 or 10 a day, which she directly attributes to the town hall education push. She said Saguaro is actively seeking a larger space to accommodate the need and will be adding an additional location in the TMC Medical Park this summer.

Bergman said urgent care fills an important niche when patients can’t get in to see their primary care doctor for ailments such as migraines, colds, bladder infections or even suture removals.

Employees pay less out of pocket for urgent care visits, as well. Emergency room visits under the co-pay and PPO plans cost $250 per visit. A visit to urgent care under the co-pay plan costs $40, although it’s $15 for TMC employees and dependents using Saguaro Physicians.

Dr. Krupp said he’s pleased that employees are making more judicious use of the emergency room. “Hospital workers tend to be higher utilizers of the health care system because we have access. But the truth is, we also have access to a lot of good primary care and preventative services. It’s important that we lead by example for the rest of the community.”

As a general rule of thumb, patients should go to the emergency room if they are experiencing life-threatening injuries or serious medical conditions. Among some of the symptoms that could require emergency care: chest pain, shortness of breath, uncontrolled bleeding, confusion or loss of consciousness, seizures, poisoning, serious burns, broken bones and paralysis. Urgent care, meanwhile, is often more appropriate for ailments that are less acute, but still require immediate attention. Some common ailments might include ear infections, sprains, urinary tract infections, vomiting and high fever.

Urgent care at Saguaro Physicians at 5300 E. Erickson is available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Other locations also offer urgent care hours.

Walk-ins are welcome, but for more information, please call 324-3940.


  1. Cheryl Waters says:

    My husband is a TMC employee and I would be interested to know where other urgent care facilities are located

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Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461
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