Lakelanders with busy schedules don’t have to look far to find a nearby center where they can get same-day health care. There are currently at least nine urgent care centers in Lakeland, including one, MedExpress, that hosted a grand opening earlier this month at 3700 U.S. 98 N. And Watson Clinic has announced it will break ground next month on an urgent care center at its Oakbridge location.

Watson Clinic‘s second large-scale urgent care center is intended to provide not only the typical walk-in urgent-care services for minor illnesses and injuries but also the more advanced diagnostic services available in free-standing emergency departments, including CT scans and ultrasounds.

“People have become comfortable with on-demand health care” as they have become accustomed to a social media climate with online ordering and quick deliveries,” said Jarrett Gregory, an osteopathic physician who is spokesman for Watson Clinic’s urgent care department.

“They show up on their schedule and we provide high-quality health care,” Gregory said of patient care.

Urgent care across the country is diverse, with different takes on what to offer, he said.

Most facilities focus on treating insured patients who need quick care for minor illnesses, such as coughs and flu, as well as for non-life-threatening cuts and broken bones. These facilities typically offer extended early-morning and evening hours on weekdays and limited weekend hours and are equipped to provide X-ray, laboratory and EKG services.

Watson Clinic’s XpressCare Highlands, 2300 E. County Road 540A, and most of the other urgent care centers in Lakeland fit into that niche.

The planned new center at Watson Clinic’s South Campus, 1033 N. Parkway Frontage Road, and Watson Clinic’s existing Urgent Care North on its Main Campus, 1600 Lakeland Hills Blvd., focus on providing a higher level of diagnostic services, including CT scans and ultrasound.

Services there are akin to that offered at a free-standing emergency department, such as the one the national hospital chain Hospital Corporation of America is scheduled to open soon — a 10,920-square-foot facility at South Florida Avenue and Eastway Drive, only 1.2 miles east of the planned Watson Clinic Urgent Care South facility.

Meeting a growing demand

Although only about five miles separate Watson Clinic’s planned Urgent Care South and its Urgent Care North facility, Gregory said that the company’s projections indicate there is a large enough population base in growing southern Lakeland to support the planned facility.

In 2018, Watson Clinic treated approximately 45,500 patients at its urgent care clinic on the Main Campus and another 34,000 patients at its smaller XpressCare Highlands clinic, according to Jenny Baker, marketing and communications manager for Watson Clinic.

“While we do not know what the volumes will be at the Urgent Care South, we know that quality, convenience and walk-in care is in demand,” Baker said.

The planned Urgent Care South will be of similar size to the 9,200-square-foot North clinic and will have a similar-size staff and operating hours , Gregory said.

Watson Clinic plans to renovate about 6,500 square feet of space on its South Campus and will build additional space, bringing the facility up to 9,218 square feet, Gregory said.

The full building will have an emergency generator system, oxygen and vacuum distribution systems, a nurse-call system, multiple procedure rooms, a high-security management system, and more, Gregory said.

Watson Clinic, a physician practice group of more than 200 physicians with some 40 specialties, is in a unique position to provide backup care, often getting urgent care patients in for sub-specialty care the same day if they need to be seen quickly, Gregory said.

While the North clinic is staffed with five physicians, the South Clinic will start with four physicians who will all have emergency medicine experience and board certified in family medicine, internal medicine or pediatrics, Gregory said. The goal will be to eventually add a board-certified emergency medicine physician, he said.

Like the North clinic, the South clinic will have nurses and licensed practical nurses with emergency department experience, as well as radiology and laboratory technicians, he said. However, the South clinic is not expected to have the MRI (magnetic resonance imagery) equipment available at Watson Clinic’s Urgent Care North and XpressCare facilities.

Like the North clinic, the South clinic will be equipped and staffed to treat stroke-like symptoms, chest pain, complicated abdominal pains and the usual assortment of minor illnesses and injuries, Gregory said.

“We will be able to treat basically all patients except for children under 2 years old, trauma patients and sexual assault victims,” Gregory said.

Patients who need hospitalization or emergency department care will be transported by ambulance to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, he said.

Free-standing ER

Hours of services and cost are the main difference between free-standing ER and advanced urgent care facilities, such as the Watson Clinic North and South facilities, Gregory said.

Free-standing ER departments have been popping up across Central Florida as health systems work to get into the traditional markets of other hospitals. They are staffed and equipped to stabilize life-threatening emergencies, including chest pain, but do not provide trauma care. As emergency departments, they can bill insurance companies and Medicare at the high rates of a hospital-based ER.

“One of our focuses at Watson Clinic is to provide health care at an affordable cost,” Gregory said. “By providing additional diagnostics we can provide those services as a much more affordable encounter than going to an emergency room,” he said.

“We do see ourselves as an ER alternative,” Gregory said.

Emergency departments, including free-standing ERs, must be open 24-hours-a-day throughout the year. In contrast, Watson Clinic Urgent Care North is open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The hours will be similar at the South clinic, Gregory said.

Watson Clinic’s Xpress Care Highlands offers services and hours more similar to the other seven urgent care centers in Lakeland. Several list hours as 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and until 5 p.m. on weekends. Some close earlier in the evening or open a little earlier or later. And one, OwlNow, is open 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Other facilities

In addition to the Watson Clinic facilities, an online search found these urgent care facilities in Lakeland:

  • MedExpress at 3700 U.S. 98 N., Suite 101.
  • OwlNow at 3240 S. Florida Ave.
  • Sunshine Urgent Care at 3305 US 98 N.
  • First Help at 1801 N. Crystal Lake Drive.
  • Premier Walk-In Clinic at 5676 S. Florida Ave.
  • Doctors Today at 1429 Lakeland Hills Blvd.


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