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Pandemic highlights need for urgent care clinics for women

Rachel Scheier, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Last spring, only weeks into the pandemic, Christina Garcia was spending her days struggling to help her two young sons adjust to online schooling when she got such a heavy, painful period she could barely stand. After a few days, her vision began to blur and she found herself too weak to open a jar.

Garcia’s regular OB/GYN — like most medical offices at the time — was closed, and she was terrified by the prospect of spending hours waiting in an emergency room shoulder to shoulder with people who might have COVID-19.

By the time she stumbled into the newly opened Bascom OB-GYN urgent care clinic at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, clutching a pillow to her belly, Garcia was pale and dehydrated from blood loss and certain she was dying.

“If I didn’t get to the clinic when I did, I think, things could have ended up very different,” said Garcia, 34, who underwent an emergency hysterectomy for uterine fibroids.

Her story illustrates a long-standing gap in women’s health care. For years, many women with common but urgent conditions like painful urinary tract infections or excessive bleeding in the aftermath of a miscarriage have faced a grim choice between waiting weeks for an appointment with their regular OB-GYN or braving hours in an ER waiting room.

Urgent care OB-GYN clinics have begun popping up around the country in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand. While no data is available on the number of urgent care clinics for women, they are part of a surge of interest in urgent care clinics in general and other alternative models like retail clinics and so-called digital-first health care startups. One of these, the New York-based women’s health startup Tia (“aunt” in Spanish), won $24 million in venture capital funding last spring and is opening physical clinics nationwide.

 

“It’s clear that access and convenience are increasingly more important to consumers than seeing a specific provider,” said Rob Rohatsch, chief medical officer at Solv, an app that books urgent care appointments.

The Urgent Care Association has reported steadily increasing visits by people who use its members’ walk-in clinics as an alternative to hospital emergency departments. Traffic to these clinics has surged during the past year, according to Solv.

The Bascom clinic had been a nearly decadelong dream of Drs. Cheryl Pan and Anita Sit, two obstetrician-gynecologists at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, a sprawling public hospital that serves as the regional trauma center, treating critical cases like car accident and gunshot victims and relegating people suffering less life-threatening problems to long waits.

“Women — perhaps pregnant or bleeding — could be sitting there 12 to 14 hours, depending on the time of day,” Pan said.

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