US urgent care centers experience 8% growth

The total number of urgent care centers in the country grew from 8,125 in November 2017 to 8,744 in the same month in 2018—a total growth rate of 8 percent, according to the Urgent Care Association’s 2018 Benchmarking Report. The statistics underscore the changing healthcare preferences among a diversified patient population. 

“Urgent care centers play an increasingly vital role in the continuum of care, providing services for a wide array of patients who may be unable to see a primary care physician for various reasons, including simply not yet affiliating with one,” said Laurel Stoimenoff, PT, CHC, CEO of UCA. “As a result, the patient populations utilizing urgent care centers are evolving, with Millennials leading the way in driving demand and increased utilization. And as Baby Boomers are aging into Medicare, we are also seeing year-over-year growth in that sector as well.” 

Another recent study of Yelp reviews published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine showed urgent care centers received twice as many 5-star reviews, compared to emergency departments. 

The benchmarking report found more than 70 percent of patients waited less than 20 minutes to see a healthcare provider at urgent care centers. Additionally, 94 percent were seen by a provider in less than half an hour. Of note, total visit time for nearly 85 percent of patients was less than an hour at urgent care centers.

Additionally, 98 percent of patients who sought treatment in urgent care centers were in the “in the right place.” Only 2 percent of care seekers were referred to emergency departments (EDs). 

Interestingly, only 35 percent of patients who sought care at urgent care facilities were unaffiliated with a primary care provider (PCP) or “a medical home.” Urgent care facilities can serve as “the front door,” for patients who need specialists. Still, Stoimenoff advised, these facilities should not be used as a primary care.

“Urgent care is ideal for episodic, non-emergency events, but should not be considered a replacement for a patient’s medical home, particularly when there are chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes needing ongoing oversight,” Stoimenoff told HealthExec in an email. “Rather, urgent care helps bridge the gap between primary care providers and emergency departments, offering immediate access to services in between visits to primary care providers.”

The number of Medicare and Medicare patients seeking services at urgent care grew and accounted for 27 percent of all visits in 2018—this is credited to Baby Boomers who visited urgent care facilities and used their Medicare benefits.

“Urgent care helps reduce the impact of the physician shortage by offering services on nights and weekends, ensuring patients can access care when and where they need it most,” Stoimenoff said. “The medical community is becoming increasingly integrated through technology and value-based care initiatives. This facilitates ongoing care, eliminates redundancies and manifests in better outcomes.”