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Sarah Warren, PA-C
By Sarah Warren, PA-C on March 04, 2024

Urgent Care's Role in Outbreak Response

Have you ever wondered if that 4th case of acute diarrhea and vomiting that you saw during your last shift in the urgent care may be related to the others? Have you ever seen a kid with a rash, and the thought of measles crossed your mind?

As urgent care clinicians, we are strategically positioned to be the first point of contact for patients with acute illnesses. We are often the first to notice surprising trends in similar patient complaints or the first to see a patient with a communicable disease.  

With the hustle and bustle of a busy urgent care shift, it can be easy to forget about the bigger picture. Keeping public health at the forefront of our minds and forging a solid relationship with our local health department can help manage outbreaks before they begin, and is without a doubt in the best interest of our patients.

How can urgent care clinicians promote public health?

Know what diseases are reportable in your state

Reportable disease requirements vary from state to state in terms of what diseases are reportable and the timeframes in which reporting must occur. There is a lot of overlap across states nationally, but there are also differences. Front-line clinicians must familiarize themselves with the reporting requirements of the state where they practice.

Report  suspected communicable diseases before confirmatory testing returns

Some communicable diseases like measles, monkeypox, and even food poisoning are so highly contagious that notifying the health department of a suspected case before confirming the diagnosis can save lives. Prompt notification of a possible case allows the health department

to get a head start with contact tracing and protecting those at high risk who may have been exposed. The head start also gives them time to strategize the next steps once the illness is confirmed, aids in preparing control measures containing the outbreak, and can save lives.

Be aware of health alerts in your state

One of the easiest things we can do to monitor public health as urgent care clinicians is to stay abreast of emerging health alerts in our area. The CDC's' Health Alert Network (HAN) is a messaging system that informs public health practitioners, clinicians, and public health laboratories of health alerts, advisories, and updates. Timely recognition of emerging illnesses in your area allows you to recognize the signs and symptoms in your patients and leads to faster care, improved outcomes, and more effective response efforts

Register here to receive HAN alerts, and you can be one of the first to know the next time there is a local salmonella outbreak.

For more about integrating UC clinicians and public health officers and hearing some inspiring stories of clinicians who identified outbreaks and saved lives, listen to this month's Urgent Care RAP podcast, Outbreak Response.

Published by Sarah Warren, PA-C March 4, 2024
Sarah Warren, PA-C