New research reveals growing urgent care market


Photo Credit: Peshkova

A recent report revealed the growing popularity of the urgent care clinic business model. According to Consumer Reports, between 2014 and 2018, the number of urgent care facilities increased from 6,400 to 8,100. Hundreds more are slated to open as organizations start their own urgent care centers.

“Urgent care clinics act as on-demand emergency outlets focused on delivering ambulatory care independent from a traditional emergency room,” says Community Health 1st ER, a clinic that offers urgent care in Pasadena. “Urgent care centers are often cheaper, require shorter visits, and are more convenient.”

Urgent care centers take care of around 89 million patients annually, which comprises nearly 30% of all primary care visits in the United States and 15% of outpatient physician visits. Here’s what you should know about urgent care:

Is this an emergency?

Urgent care facilities help bridge the gap between what’s considered an “emergency” and what can wait. For instance, if you’ve cut your hand while cooking dinner and might require a few stitches, a pool of blood can certainly feel like an emergency. However, a traditional emergency room teeming with high-risk patients suffering from life-threatening conditions may not tend to your emergency right away, because it’s simply not a priority to them.

Urgent care centers treat all emergencies as such, and with a lower volume of patients, they often have the resources at hand to achieve this. With over 8,000 urgent care centers around the country, patients now have a feasible way to treat emergencies that don’t fall under the “life threatening” category.

Get the care you need—quicker

Convenience is another major factor to consider. Urgent care centers often tend to move patients much quicker, with a more efficient process. According to a 2018 Benchmarking report published by the Urgent Care Association, 70% of all urgent care patients were seen within 20 minutes, and 85% of all patients are taken care of within a single hour.

In addition to slower wait times, urgent care centers tend to be located in areas that are within close proximity to residential neighborhoods. This is possible because, unlike hospitals, the infrastructure demands are much smaller, and these facilities take up less space.

Save money

Studies have shown that going to an urgent care instead of an emergency room can ultimately save you money. A study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine found that ER treatment costs were, on average, 10x more than the costs of treatment at an urgent care center. Even patients with the same diagnosis will experience a large financial gap in terms of final costs. The average ER treatment is $2,200, compared to $168 for urgent care clinics.

Emergency room or urgent care?

It’s clear that there are ample benefits to urgent care centers, which is why more and more are popping up throughout the United States. However, it’s important to know when a visit to the urgent care is best, and when an ER visit is warranted. Of course, this can be easier said than done, as many situations feel like an emergency to the individual as it happens.

In any situation, it’s crucial to remain calm and identify the difference between pain and life threatening. If you’ve fallen down the steps and think you’ve twisted an ankle or broken a bone, an urgent care center has all the technology and staff to process this circumstance. However, if you’ve fallen down the stairs, hit your head and are bleeding profusely, an emergency call is necessary. Extreme pain linked to unknown causes should almost always be directed towards hospitals.


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