Urgent Care Centers On the Rise
As the popularity of urgent care centers rises, more mainstream companies are expanding into this field. The purpose of an urgent care center is to treat illness or injury that needs immediate medical attention but is not life-threatening. The American Academy of Urgent care Medicine explains that these clinics offer outpatient care, but are not designed to replace a primary care physician. They offer an alternative that helps alleviate some of the stress on hospital ERs.
Why Urgent Care is Expanding in the U.S.
In the healthcare industry, urgent care is becoming big business. Over the last few years, hospital chains and insurance companies have made it their mission to buy up urgent care facilities through mergers and acquisitions. Health systems are getting into the game, too, by partnering with franchised urgent care owners.
For patients, urgent care is all about convenience. These centers have seen a rise in patients, particularly those over 50 who are in good health. This adult demographic tends to prefer working with a clinic connected to a larger system – one where their regular physician may practice. Urgent care centers linked with a hospital offer an added benefit – easy transfer if they need more advanced care.
The amenities of an urgent care center will vary, but on average:
- There are physicians on staff
- They take walk-ins, so no appointment necessary
- Wait times are around 30 minutes
The cost is less than 10% of what the same treatment costs in the ER. The average urgent care visit runs around 150 dollars where treatment in the ED may cost over a thousand.
- Open extended hours, usually in the evenings and on the weekends
What Hospitals Get From Partnering with an Urgent Care Center
For hospitals, the urgent care model works, too. Not only do they increase their presence in the community and expand their patient base, they have a place to send minor cases and reduce the wait time in ERs. The current estimate in the U.S. is over 10,000 of these centers exist.
The Urgent Care Association of America offers some interesting statistics
- There are approximately 7,100 full-service urgent care centers
- Twenty-two percent are owned by hospitals
- Fifteen percent are joint ventures with hospitals
- Eighty-seven percent of the urgent care operators added a new location in 2014
- Eighty-nine percent of owners state their patient visits are increasing
Medicare is embracing the urgent care model, as well. Randy Johansen, president of the Alabama-based American Family Care company, indicates they treat a number of Medicare patients when they need immediate attention.
Health systems use urgent care to funnel patients through their various service models. If they need emergency treatment for an acute problem, they can transfer to an in-network hospital. If they need follow-up care, they can see a primary care physician that works with the system, as well.