Most everyone is aware of urgent care centers. Their popularity has skyrocketed in the past 15 years as the healthcare industry has evolved. Since the beginning of the Affordable Care Act, the demand for urgent care is now greater than ever, as more people now have insurance. According to an often cited article in the Journal Health Affairs in May of this year, 22.8 million americans are newly insured since the start of the ACA, enabling these people to enter the healthcare market.
However, entering the healthcare market, and getting access to healthcare when you need it are two very different things. The rise in insured patients has created back flow in an already stressed and overburdened healthcare system. As a result, many people have found that they now have even more trouble getting in to see their primary care physician when a health concern arises. This has caused increased demand for urgent care, which allows for immediate evaluation and treatment.
But the benefits of urgent care go well beyond the ability to see a doctor immediately. Affordability, convenience, and coordination of care are also important factors. These factors have emerged as top reasons that people prefer an urgent care center when they need healthcare.
In terms of affordability, the fact that urgent care centers are community based instead of attached to a hospital like emergency departments, reduces the overhead and ancillary costs associated with providing care. That cost savings is then passed on to the patient. According to an article in Time Magazine in April of this year, the average cost of an emergency room visit is $1,233, which is 40% higher than an average month’s rent. In contrast, the average charge (nationally) for an urgent care visit is $156, just 12.7% of the emergency department average. Many centers (including ours), have an affordable private pay fee schedule for those who are under-insured.
Convenience is also a big issue. According to a national benchmarking report conducted by the Urgent Care Association of American 2010, approximately 65% of patients wait less than 20 minutes to be treated by a doctor in an urgent care center. Also, many (not all) urgent care centers have x-ray capability, which is often a necessary part of the diagnostic process. Most urgent care centers have at least a limited laboratory. A few have more complex laboratory capability which involves similar studies that one may find used in an emergency department. This enhances diagnostic capability. In addition, some urgent care centers are dispensing medication, which eliminates the need for a trip to the pharmacy. Urgent care centers utilize streamlined flow processes that enable a patient to be evaluated and treated rapidly. Patients don’t have to make an appointment to be seen days or weeks later, often at the expense of allowing an illness to progress before treatment begins.
But what about Continuity of Care? If you have a doctor, it is likely that you want him/her to be aware of your health concern, at the actual time that the concern is occurring. In the past, many urgent care centers failed to communicate with the patient’s primary doctor. However, this is changing. At One-Stop Urgent Care, we send a copy of the patient’s evaluation and treatment plan to that patient’s doctor once the patient’s visit is complete. This ensures that the primary doctor is aware of what took place, as well as communicates any new information that may be relevant to treatment or ongoing evaluation.
Much more could be said about urgent care. Hopefully, this has given you an introduction to urgent care, and answered some questions.
Here’s to your health!