Urgent Care Bridges Gap in Health Services

Family medicine and occupational health services

An increasingly popular option for those seeking immediate medical care but without the expense or delay of an emergency room is walk-in urgent care. Walk-in urgent care bridges the gap between a standard provider that requires an appointment and an emergency room built to handle the most serious cases, with additional costs built into the treatment.

A possible explanation for the growth of the walk-in urgent care clinic is the growth in the number of individuals who have sought out the immediate diagnosis and treatment from emergency rooms. Emergency room visits number 110 million annually, with a 22% increase in the number of after dark visits.

There’s a cost associated with this as well, for both patients and hospitals. According to a 2009 study by Rand Corp., 14% to 27% of emergency room visits could be handled by urgent care, which would save up to $4.4 billion in health care costs nationally. Other studies put the percentage of cases that could be handled in urgent care higher, between 44% and 70%.

While the walk-in urgent care clinic is a relatively new option for getting help with a medical condition compared to emergency rooms and the standard practitioner, it has been gaining in popularity.

There are 9,300 walk-in urgent care clinics currently available and 50-100 new clinics open every year. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, the average clinic in 2011 saw 342 patients per week, with growth expected to be an additional 28 patients per month.

This rise in popularity could be due to the ease of use and accessibility of a doctor quickly. The average physician sees between four and five patients per hour and nearly all urgent care clinics operated seven days per week for at least four hours per day, according to statistics in 2014.

Urgent medical needs can be addressed quickly, from sore throats to fevers and chest pains and cuts. It may help that half are owned by physicians or groups of physicians and that 60% have a wait time of less than 15 minutes to see a physician or mid-level provider.

Walk-in urgent care clinics represent a bridge in the gap between the services of the standard provider, where an appointment is necessary, and the emergency room, where the cost and wait time are significant. A clinic treats injury and illness with convenience and reduced cost.

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