In 2019, the number of urgent care centers in the United States reached 9,616—up 50% from 6,400 in 2014. This rapid boom in the number of urgent care centers corresponds with a rise in patient demand for convenient, cost-effective, and trustworthy healthcare services.
With increasing frequency, patients are turning to urgent care centers to meet their medical needs, rather than the emergency room or their primary physician. Below, we dive into a few of the key reasons that urgent care centers are on the rise across the United States.
Typically, individuals with non-emergent health problems have to call their primary physician to schedule an appointment—usually between the hours of 9AM and 5PM, Monday through Friday. Many family doctors do not offer same-day scheduling, meaning it could be several days before the patient is diagnosed and treatment can begin. Patients who don’t want to wait sometimes turn to emergency rooms, which can be expensive and stressful.
Comparatively, urgent care centers provide patients with quick, easy, and convenient access to healthcare. These facilities offer a wide range of services and are equipped to treat a large number of non-emergent health conditions, from respiratory infections to sprains and cuts.
Urgent care centers are designed to accommodate walk-ins and same-day appointments, meaning patients in need of quick healthcare services don’t need to wait. Additionally, 85% of urgent care centers are open seven days a week, and 95% close later than 7PM. These hours are much more convenient for busy parents and full-time employees.
Additionally, wait times at urgent care centers tend to be significantly shorter than emergency room waits. According to the UCA’s 2019 Benchmarking Report, 92% of patients waited 30 minutes or less to see a provider at an urgent care center. On average, 97% of urgent care patients spend an hour or less in the clinic.
2. Cost Effective
Urgent care centers are a cost-effective alternative to emergency care. On average, a visit to the ER costs patients a whopping $2,200—more than 10 times the average cost of treatment at an urgent care ($168). This is true even among patients with the same final diagnosis.
In general, urgent care treatment costs are roughly equivalent to those of a primary care provider. In some cases, they may actually be more affordable! This is especially common in the case of simple procedures such as vaccinations or the flu test.
Additionally, most insurers do provide coverage for urgent care services. Like with all healthcare services, the exact amount of coverage will vary by provider and plan type.
Urgent care centers are capable of servicing patient needs with the same level of care, expertise, and professionalism as most primary care practices.
94% of urgent care clinics across the U.S. employ at least one full-time physician. The most common physician specialty is family medicine at 48%, followed by emergency medicine at 30%—the same quality of education you would find in any doctor’s office or emergency room.
Most urgent cares employ nurse practitioners or physician assistants to support their doctors. These staff members can fulfill services such as diagnosing patients and writing prescriptions. Many centers also offer specialized services tailored to women, children, and elderly patients.
Urgent care centers are a convenient, cost effective, and trustworthy healthcare option for patients. As the need for on-demand medical services continues to grow, the number of urgent cares in the U.S. will likely continue to rise.