While originally received as little more than a fad, urgent care centers have become a central cog in the American medical machine. According to the most recent report from the Urgent Care Association of America, there are more than 9,000 urgent care centers spread across the country.
The Fuel Powering Urgent Care’s Growth
In any given week, an estimated three million Americans visit their local urgent care center. In a healthcare market that is still struggling to keep prices down and quality high, urgent care centers seem to make an increasing amount of sense. With drastically reduced wait times and prices that are far lower than the average cost of visiting an emergency room, it’s no surprise that, as The Wall Street Journal reports, the urgent care industry grew by 8.2% annually between 2009 and 2014.
Urgent Care Costs: Time and Money
Of all the reasons so many Americans choose to give urgent care centers their business, cost is likely the most important. On average, a trip to an urgent care center costs from 40-50% less than a trip to the emergency room for comparable treatment. The average cost for treatment at an urgent care center runs as low as $150.
Time is also a considerable factor in the meteoric rise of urgent care facilities. An estimated 85% of centers in the U.S. are open seven days a week, with many keeping their doors open to handle those emergencies that spring up from too much alcohol and too much time with family on the holidays. When patients arrive at an urgent care facility, approximately 57% will wait no longer than 15 minutes to be seen. A full 80% of urgent care patients report that their visited last less than an hour. You’d be hard pressed to find an ER that can get you in and out in double the time.
Still, Hospitals Have Their Place
Urgent care centers have served, and continue to serve, as an important filter for the more traditional emergency room. It’s no secret that emergency departments and hospitals have been struggling to keep up with demand over the last few years. By giving Americans a place to go with non-life-threatening emergency needs, urgent care centers are able to reduce that demand in a significant way.
In 2012, the most common diagnosis given by urgent care centers was an upper respiratory condition. With over 69% of facilities offering drug screening; 89.8% offering treatment for minor workplace injuries, like sprains; and more than 80% caring for bone fractures and other splinting injuries, urgent care facilities are able to draw the people who don’t really need an emergency room away from overbooked hospitals, giving them the space they need to help those who need it most.