Urgent Care Centers: Healthcare from Covid-19 Testing and Blood Tests to X-Rays

Urgent care centers have long been underutilized for your healthcare needs. These convenient, on-demand clinics, previously thought of as maybe a lesser option than a health system, often serve as the first step in a patient’s health journey. 

Maybe you woke up with a scratchy throat and want to rule out a serious illness before going to work, so you stop in the local urgent care instead of trying to schedule an appointment with your doctor. These clinics offer more services than you may think, including blood tests, X-rays, and wound care among a list of others. Additionally, there is the convenience factor of being able to see a provider on your time or outside the times a PCP office can offer.

The average cost of an urgent care visit is between $100 and $200, whereas that of an ER visit is usually over $500. 

Choosing an urgent care center instead of going to the ER for acute health issues is a discussion for another time, but this cost-effective healthcare option is a driving factor behind the rapid growth of this healthcare sector. According to the Urgent Care Association (UCA), the total number of urgent care centers in the U.S. reached 9,616 as of November 2019, a 9.6 percent increase from the year before. This growth trend has continued upward since 2013 when there were 6,100 in the U.S. As patients continue to look for convenience and affordability in healthcare, this number is expected to continue growing. 

The popularity of urgent cares can also be attributed to Millennials. Although the Millennial generation is blamed for “ruining” many industries, the same cannot be said for the urgent care industry. According to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, only 68 percent of Millennials have a primary care physician, choosing other healthcare alternatives when faced with ailments instead of preventative care. Although Millennials may be one of the more impatient generations, this works in favor of urgent cares. Millennials prefer urgent care because they can be seen on their schedule and they value convenience over the cost or relationship with a PCP.

The UCA’s 2019 benchmarking report says that nearly 97 percent of urgent care patient encounters last one hour or less, demonstrating the “quick and convenient service that meets the on-demand access to care important to patients today.” These statistics, however, reflect “normal” years, not 2020. 

Demand for urgent care is sky-high with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The rise of COVID cases combined with the holiday season has patients seeking coronavirus tests more than ever, symptomatic or not. After starting to offer COVID tests in May as an alternative to hospitals, and to ease the strain on health systems, these facilities have been busier than ever. 

As of late October, urgent cares were conducting close to 725,000 tests per week, or 10 percent of total weekly tests in the US at the time, according to vox.com. That number has grown exponentially thanks to the third wave of the pandemic. The urgent care market reflects this rise in popularity and is estimated to be $28 billion this year in the U.S. alone.

It remains to be seen whether these facilities will offer COVID vaccines (many currently offer flu vaccines), but the fact that most urgent cares offer a variety of services for your healthcare needs is unknown to many. With 2020 winding down, we cannot help but look forward to and prepare for a future post-COVID-19. Urgent care clinics will remain a popular option for healthcare moving forward as people will look to limit exposure in hospitals and seek convenience. 

Many facilities have also started offering telemedicine options for those who would rather not leave the comfort and safety of their home. However, if those patients require testing, they will still need to go to a brick-and-mortar facility where they can have their test collection performed. As part of our MAP: Medical Access Point™ network, urgent care centers that have the skilled labor to perform lab collections can promote their other services, expand testing options, and realize a new stream of revenue based on their existing labor to help get through the current pandemic and beyond.

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