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What is Causing the Rapid Growth of Urgent Care in America?

With healthcare costs and insurance premiums on the rise, and policies dictating that patients receive care in places where it is most cost effective; many Americans are turning to urgent care centers as an option when they need medical attention quickly.

Urgent care centers are revolutionizing access to patient care, popping up all across the country at an astonishing rate. It begs us to examine why so many people have turned towards this method for medical help in recent years. In this blog post, we will be exploring what’s driving these widespread changes along with some benefits that come with using urgent cares instead of your regular doctor or hospital visit.

In the CareTalk episode, “Why Urgent Care is Growing So Fast,” hosts, John Driscoll and David Williams explore what's behind the rapid growth of urgent care and why it matters.

What is Urgent Care and How Does it Work?

Urgent Care facilities provide walk-in medical services for unplanned, non-emergency illnesses and injuries. They are often open extended hours on evenings and weekends where most primary care providers are closed; additionally, some offer routine care services such as physicals and vaccinations.

These facilities provide a lower-cost alternative to emergency room visits for urgent medical issues that cannot wait until the following day when a regular doctor's office is open. The scope of services offered varies from place to place, but many include suturing of lacerations, treatment of minor fractures, strep throat tests and treatments for respiratory illnesses like asthma or bronchitis.

Ultimately, Urgent Care centers bridge the gap between an emergency room visit and a traditional doctor's visit – offering convenient options that can ease the burden on an already stressed system.

The Benefits of Urgent Care Over Traditional Emergency Room Visits

Urgent care facilities are an invaluable asset to a community because they provide timely and important medical attention without relying on the traditional emergency room. Visiting an urgent care center is generally faster and more efficient than going to a hospital, which can be overwhelmed by those requiring more serious medical attention.

The cost of treatment at an urgent care facility is also typically much lower than visiting an ER in cases where no major medical interventions are necessary. The typical cost of an urgent care visit with insurance ranges from $100-$150 with insurance and around $175 for uninsured patients.

“It can be as much as 10 times to go to an emergency room. So, doesn't it make sense that these urgent centers are growing as access points for care?” – John (CareTalk)

This can result in significant savings for people who don’t have adequate health insurance or enough financial resources to cover costly ER visits. Furthermore, several studies suggest that patients often receive higher-quality care at urgent care centers because physicians aren’t as rushed and overloaded with many other tasks in comparison to those working in the ERs of hospitals. With these tangible benefits, it's clear why urgent care has become such a popular option for people needing medical attention outside of their regular doctor visit.

Is Urgent Care Positioned for Continued Growth?

The urgent care industry in America is primed for expansion. As urgent care providers are increasingly seen as viable alternatives to traditional primary care doctors, the demand for urgent cares continues to grow and accrue financial investments. Already, urgent care centers are expanding their offerings and making significant investments in modern technology, which has drastically improved the quality of care provided.

The convenience of urgent care, with shorter wait times and convenient locations, has become attractive to both insured and uninsured patients. As Americans become increasingly cost conscious and seek to find the most convenient and efficient way to receive necessary medical care, urgent care centers are poised for significant expansion in the future.

“There's about 11,000 urgent care clinics, and that compares about 4,000 emergency rooms, and they've been growing about 10% a year in terms of the number of clinics.” – David (CareTalk)

Does Urgent Care Pose a Risk to The Sacred Doctor Patient Relationship?

The increasing popularity of urgent care centers across the country has raised concerns that they may negatively affect the patient-doctor relationship. Urgent care centers offer a much-needed convenience for a variety of medical needs. They are typically available seven days a week with shorter wait times and specialty attention that offers more immediate results than primary care.

While urgent care offers convenience, they might not be able to provide the same level of personalized treatment that doctors can offer longer visits with no time limits. Regularly visiting a doctor can foster trust and accountability between doctor and patient which is vital in ensuring quality inpatient care.

A relationship grown over time can benefit both parties as the physicians gain insight into what treatments work best for certain patients and the continued contact allows for preventive/early intervention for health issues. With all that being said, the electronic medical health record has offered a bridge to quickly gain insight into a patient’s full medical history.

“I think you can get around the issue of lack of continuity of care with things like interoperability. So, you can actually see the medical record from one place to the other.”- David (CareTalk)

The Future of Urgent Care in America

To sum up, America has seen a rapid growth in the number of urgent care clinics for a variety of reasons. These convenient centers provide high quality medical care at a lower cost than an emergency room visit, making healthcare more accessible and affordable for many people. We must remember, though, that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to medical care needs, and with any form of healthcare, it's important to have strong relationships with providers in order to receive the best, most personalized care.

Given the advantages and disadvantages of urgent care, they offer a solid option for those who need prompt medical attention and are looking for more affordable routes than expensive ER visits. The trend is likely to continue as long as the demand exists, which underscores the importance of making well-informed decisions when choosing where and how to receive medical services.



CareTalk is the only healthcare podcast that tells it like it is. Join hosts John Driscoll (President U.S. Healthcare and EVP, Walgreens Boots Alliance) and David Williams (President, Health Business Group) as they provide an incisive, no B.S. view of the US healthcare industry.



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