Statistics show that urgent care facilities represent one of the fastest-growing segments in American medical care, with about 9,300 clinics operating nationwide. In fact, the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) estimates that about 1,300 of those clinics opened up just in the past eight years.
So, what’s fueling the rapid growth of urgent care in the United States? According to Shaun Ginter, an UCAOA board member, “More American are seeking care in an on-demand, convenience-focused environment. Urgent care centers cater to busy lifestyles and the needs of patients.”
Unlike traditional doctors’ offices, urgent care facilities are usually open during evenings and on weekends, and appointments are not necessary. Wait times are also a lot shorter at urgent care centers than at hospital emergency rooms. But it’s not just all about convenience. It’s about cost as well.
Ginter cites controlling rising health care costs as a major factor in the rise of the urgent care industry. Whereas an ER visit might cost around $1,354, the average urgent care visit costs only $150. This is critical for the roughly 35.7 million people in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, as ER visits often cost them even more.
“There’s an inherently high cost with a hospital ER,” he said. “They have very high-cost and highly qualified people and are typically designed as a trauma setting. We’re not staffing with trauma surgeons and heart doctors. In hospital systems, everything is fully integrated and designed for life-or-death situations.”
Urgent care centers, on the other hand, are designed for conditions that need immediate medical attention without being potentially fatal. For instance, urgent care is ideal for treating burns, animal bites and stings, infections, fevers, strep throat, allergic reactions, sprains and dislocations, and deep cuts and abrasions.
A patient suffering from heart attack symptoms, stroke symptoms, major trauma, severe abdominal pain, uncontrolled bleeding, or severe vomiting should seek medical help at an ER where a surgeon and other specialists are on staff.
Urgent care services have increased and expanded drastically around the world since they first began in the 1970s, and medical professionals do not expect the trend to slow down any time soon.