Arkansas Surgical Hospital has expanded into the quick, convenient health care segment that has swept across Arkansas in recent years.

In January, the North Little Rock surgical hospital opened its first ASH Urgent Care at 7339 North Hills Blvd., where North Little Rock meets Sherwood, to treat children and adults for a variety of non-life-threatening injuries. And it plans to open more, Arkansas Business reported.

“Our goal is two per year over the next couple of years,” said Brian Fowler, ASH’s chief operations officer. “The way that medicine is changing, there’s a niche for these urgent care” centers.

ASH isn’t alone. Last month, Sherwood Urgent Care opened a center in Hot Springs, making it the ninth center in Arkansas. Sherwood Urgent Care is operated by Urgent Team of Nashville, Tennessee, which also has a partnership with Baptist Health of Little Rock and operates five Baptist Health Urgent Care centers in Arkansas. A sixth center is opening in December at 6805 Cantrell Road in Little Rock.

Sherwood Urgent also is in negotiations to open more urgent care centers in Arkansas, “but we don’t have anything” to announce, said Mike Dupuis, Urgent Team division vice president.

Urgent care centers are promoted as places to get treatment that are both less expensive and faster than hospital emergency rooms.

“Year over year urgent care center growth continues,” according to a January white paper by the Urgent Care Association of America. Consumers, investors and hospital systems helped fuel that growth, the report said.

Dupuis said in an email to Arkansas Business that the growth of urgent care centers is attributed to high-deductible insurance plans that have forced consumers to “be more savvy about their health care spending.” Patients also want quick and easy access to health care providers, he said.

In 2017, the United States had 7,639 urgent care centers, up 19.3 percent from 2014, according to the report by the Urgent Care Association, which is headquartered in Warrenville, Illinois.

The $18 billion urgent care industry is expected to continue growing, the report said.

“The future for continued integration of urgent care into mainstream health care delivery and technology should promote improved coordination of care for patient and providers alike,” the report said.

ASH’s Fowler said ASH spent more than $500,000 for startup costs on its urgent care center.

He said ASH opened the center because it thought it could serve patients who couldn’t quickly see their primary care doctors when a non-emergency occurred.

“We can come beside the primary care doctors, and we can take care of pretty much everything that’s . non-emergent, from rashes to sinus infections,” he said. The center also has an X-ray machine at the location.

After treatment, providers at ASH Urgent Care can refer the patients to their primary care doctors. Or, if necessary, the patient can be referred to a surgeon at Arkansas Surgical Hospital. “You’d be amazed at the number of sports injuries” that are treated at the urgent care center, Fowler said. “Those people need orthopedic calls, so it made sense as a surgical hospital to engage there.”

Fowler said ASH has four employees and a doctor or physician assistant is at the urgent care center at all times.

ASH Urgent Care also sees patients for occupational health-related issues, such as pre-employment drug screenings and physicals.

Fowler said ASH plans to open more centers in rural areas of central Arkansas. “Some of those areas are underserved,” he said.

“It’s not our goal to saturate the market,” he said. “We want to be strategic in where we go so that we meet our initiatives … which those are to enhance communities.”