NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 7, 2008

Patients who need immediate care for injuries and illness, be it a nail-gun puncture or a severe stomach bug, are increasingly turning to walk-in urgent-care clinics, says the Wall Street Journal.  These facilities aim to fill the gap between the growing shortage of primary-care doctors and a shrinking number of already-crowded hospital emergency departments, with no appointment necessary and extended evening and weekend hours.

  • Urgent-care clinics are staffed by physicians, offer wait times as little as a few minutes and charge $60 to $200 depending on the procedure -- a fraction of the typical $1,000-plus emergency department visit.
  • Some offer discounts and payment plans for the uninsured; for those with coverage, co-payments vary by insurance plan but may be less than half the amount of an ER visit, which can range from $50 to $200.

Urgent-care centers aren't to be confused with the new crop of retail health clinics popping up in drugstores, which are run by nurse practitioners who prescribe medicine for minor illnesses and provide vaccinations. Urgent-care-center physicians and other medical staffers can put casts on broken bones, sew up lacerations, provide intravenous fluids for dehydrated patients and deploy advanced life-support equipment for both adults and children. They often have equipment not available in physicians' offices, such as X-rays.

A sample price list for an urgent-care clinic:

  • Level 1: $79 -- Clinical visit with no diagnostic lab tests or other procedures.
  • Level 2: $129 -- Clinical visit with one procedure, such as laceration treatment with no sutures or injections; burn treatment; removal of foreign object; splinting for fractures; cast boots; lab tests (urinalysis, strep throat, mono); blood-sample collection; and EKG.
  • Level 3: $189 -- Clinical visit with more than one of procedures above, including laceration treatment with sutures and/or certain injections; X-rays; intravenous fluids; eye numb and wash.

Source: Laura Landro, "Options Expand For Avoiding Crowded ERs," Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2008.

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