NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Urgent Care Centers Are Booming

October 1, 2012

A person that has a minor illness no longer has to go to a clinic and wait in long lines to be seen by a doctor. Urgent care centers are rapidly expanding, opening in convenient locations such as shopping centers and big-box stores like Walmart and Target, says Kaiser Health News.

The convenience with which patients can access care for minor ailments makes urgent care centers are the next big thing in medicine.

  • An estimated 3 million patients visit urgent care centers each week.
  • Since 2008, the number of facilities has increased from 8,000 to 9,300. This excludes limited walk-in clinics in pharmacies and big stores.
  • Growth is expected to accelerate as the health care system experiences stress from the Affordable Care Act's implementation.
  • A study found that one in five visits to the emergency room can be treated at an urgent care center, saving up to $4.4 billion annually in health care costs.

Many people find the convenience of urgent care centers to be particularly attractive. They are conveniently located and provide hours of operations that most clinics do not. So while a traditional doctor's office may close at 5 p.m., urgent care centers are open in the evening and on weekends. The lower costs are also a selling point to consumers.

Patients can get X-rays, urine samples and blood work done at these centers in a very efficient manner. At some centers, employees monitor how long people have been waiting to ensure that no patient has to wait longer than an hour.

The rise in urgent care centers has caught the eye of insurers who have added these centers to their provider networks. One insurance provider, Humana, went as far as to purchase Cocentra, the nation's largest chain of 324 urgent care centers.

Source: Phil Galewitz, "Urgent Care Centers Are Booming, Which Worries Some Doctors," Kaiser Health News, September 17, 2012.


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