Urgent Care Centers Are Filling a Void
There has always been a question about urgent cares centers and their impact on the health care landscape. A recent study by the Center for Studying Health System Change found they do indeed matter. HSC is a Washington, D.C. based nonpartisan agency dedicated to researching health care policies and providing focused analysis. Their recent findings show that urgent care centers enable the system without disrupting coordination of care standards.
The HSC Study
The study conducted by HSC put six major cities under a microscope. The study involved:
- Detroit, MI
- Jacksonville, FL
- Minneapolis, MN
- Phoenix, AZ
- Raleigh-Durham, NC
- San Francisco, CA
The researchers asked providers in these areas a series of questions to determine how well urgent care centers fit into the health care environment. The respondents offered some interesting feedback on the usefulness of these facilities. They indicated the need for health care alternatives in the area drives the growth potential of each individual clinic. Some of those surveyed also felt that UCCs influence care coordination while others indicated they are a valuable asset as long as the focus is on simple treatments.
The Mission of Urgent Care Centers
The U.S. health care system is overrun with hospital emergency rooms serving as primary caregivers to individuals unable to afford insurance. Some areas do not even have enough primary care clinics on hand to meet the needs of the insured. The number of urgent care facilities in the U.S. is growing dramatically as a result. First introduced in the 1980s, today, there are around 9,000 UC clinics – many owned by insurance companies, hospital systems or chain-based organizations.
Currently, around 27 percent of these clinics are extensions of a hospital system, allowing them to free up their ED for emerging cases. Studies suggest that hospital ownership is a likely trend for future care centers.
Patients go to the urgent care centers:
- When they know the emergency room wait will be long
- Know their problem is not serious
- Can’t see their primary care doctor
Are Urgent Care Centers Affective?
There is no real evidence that urgent care systems reduce health care spending. The study does show, however, that they don’t interfere with coordination, and many respondents indicated they improve access to medical services without lowering the care delivery. By themselves, urgent care centers are rarely lucrative, but they can actively boost referrals to generate downstream revenue for larger medical networks. They serve as a vehicle to recruit patients into a network while still offering coordinated care.
UCCs give patients a place to go besides the emergency room when they can’t see their primary caregiver. They provide volume decompression to hospital emergency rooms by treating low-acuity patients quickly, freeing up beds for high-acuity cases. They also expand evaluation and management services for patient care by taking walk-in clients.
As Obamacare becomes a reality, health care networks will see an influx of newly insured patients. Urgent cares centers fill a void by providing an alternative avenue for care. Health plans are encouraging this trend by making urgent care center co-payments lower than a trip to the emergency room for patients with private insurance.
The potential for cost savings may expand further if these centers become available to low-income families on Medicaid. Right now, most facilities work only with patients who carry private insurance or who are on Medicare. Odds are the role of urgent care centers will continue to grow as new health care initiatives develop.