In New Zealand, we have a branch of medicine focused on providing urgent medical care in the community. It is called urgent care, and the medical college responsible for the provision of training and ongoing professional standards is the Royal New Zealand College of Urgent Care. Out of the 36 branches of medicine that the Medical Council of New Zealand recognises, urgent care is the 13th largest by Fellow numbers and the second largest by face-to-face patient consultations.
There is a range of approaches to providing care for urgent conditions, including:
- Self-help, including researching information online
- Help from a family member, friend, or first-aider.
- Calling Healthline or other telephone helplines
- Ambulance services
- GP drop in or after-hours clinics
- Urgent care clinics
Urgent care clinics are based in the community and provide care on a non-appointment basis. Patients usually present with acute injuries or illnesses and are prioritised on arrival. Clinics are typically open seven days, from 8am until at least 8pm. They have the resources to manage urgent medical problems and accidents, including x-ray, fracture clinics, ophthalmology, and complex wound management facilities. Around 25% of primary care medical presentations in New Zealand are to urgent care clinics.
Urgent care clinics treat some conditions that are also managed in emergency departments, and statistics indicate they significantly lower emergency department attendance. New Zealand is the only country in which urgent care is recognised as a branch, and it has the lowest rate of emergency department attendance per capita in the developed world. In Auckland, where there are more urgent care clinics per capita than elsewhere in New Zealand, emergency department attendance rates are significantly lower than in the rest of the country. Thus, urgent care medicine supports the NZ health strategy of “Better, Sooner, More Convenient Health Care in the Community”.
Clinics comply with the requirements set out in the Urgent Care Standard.