Since the first clinic opened back in the late 1970’s, urgent care, referred by other names such as “emergency walk-in clinic”, “community health clinic”, or “walk-in health clinic”, was formed to meet a community need and has become one of the fastest growing healthcare segments in America. According to a 2017 report by The Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA), there are now over 7500 urgent care facilities, and this number is expected to grow—with no indication of slowing down anytime in the near future.
This thriving force is driven by several factors:
- Overcapacity in primary care facilities
- Overcrowding in the emergency room
- The insured, aging population
- The continued support of investors
According to UCAOA, there are an estimated 3 million patients who visit an urgent care (UC) clinic every week. With more than 20,000 physicians at these clinics, most have expanded their space to better facilitate the increasing number of patients every year.
The ever-growing need for convenient and affordable medical care is a behemoth that cannot be ignored: According to current sources, the U.S. will need to have increased the number of primary care physicians to about 52,000 by 2025 to meet healthcare demands. Now, many community health clinics are open 24 hours a day to better facilitate growing patient care, and the average wait time at an urgent care facility is only 20 minutes.
Providing after hours urgent care is popular with many patients who can’t leave work during the daytime hours, and the convenience of a having a night time health clinic for children is a nice stress relief for parents.
And then there’s cost: A typical visit to a low cost health clinic can cost 40 to 50% less than an emergency room visit, which is another driving factor for many, regardless of insurance coverage. The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey reports that the average ER visitor pays total costs of $1,318 and a mean cost of $615.
Under the Prudent Layperson Standard, which is defined as the standard by which a person possesses an average knowledge of health and medicine, insurance coverage can be denied to patients who visited an emergency room for various non-life-threatening treatment.
In other words: If an insurance company decides you should have received treatment at an urgent care center instead of the ER, they may deny coverage—which is another reason patients will choose urgent health clinics over emergency rooms for non-critical needs.
As neighborhood health clinics have become more popular, many are offering more non-critical services for patients, such as physicals, drug tests, blood work, and X-rays. In some communities, due to need, urgent care facilities will double as primary care for some patients. Many have expanded their services to provide physical therapy equipment and occupational therapy, and they may include other ancillary care, such as weight loss therapy and pre-packaged prescription services.
More than ever, urgent care facilities have become the favored way for many patients to receive quality healthcare that is convenient, affordable, and fast, and this is why community health clinics have become the standard for treating a wide variety of non-threatening health issues.
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