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Urgent care centers grow in number, reach thanks to comprehensive capabilities, convenience, demand

The report showed more than 70 percent of patients wait less than 20 minutes to see a provider and it's not just millennials fueling the demand.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

The urgent care industry continues to grow and watch its population of users expand across patient demographics thanks to the demand for convenient access to specialized and immediate medical care as well as a consumer-friendly model that isn't just attractive to millennials.

That's the word from the annual Benchmarking Report from the Urgent Care Association. As of November 2018, the total number of urgent care centers in the U.S. reached 8,774, an increase of 8 percent from 2017.

UCA and Merchant Medicine collaborated on the annual report, which cites the largest urgent care organizations by ownership type, analyzed urgent care operators and included data on urgent care saturation by core-based statistical area.

THE IMPACT

As they continue to grow in numbers and reach, urgent care centers will play an increasingly pervasive role in medical care, both ambulatory and acute. Because of the growth already seen, the patient populations using urgent care centers are also evolving. Not surprisingly, millennials are the biggest drivers in demand and utilization of urgent care centers. Also, as baby boomers start to take advantage of Medicare, their segment of the urgent care user population is also growing.

THE TREND

The report showed more than 70 percent of patients wait less than 20 minutes to see a provider at an urgent care center, with nearly 94 percent being seen in less than 30 minutes. Nearly 85 percent of patients had a total visit time of less than 60 minutes.

Furthermore, the comprehensive capabilities of urgent care centers are reflected in the majority of patients who don't have to be referred elsewhere. Report findings showed just 2 percent had to be diverted to emergency departments for higher acuity care or diagnostics.

Finally, Medicare and Medicaid patients seeking services at urgent care centers accounted for nearly 27 percent of all visits in 2018, due in part to baby boomers who were already using urgent centers tapping into newly-acquired Medicare benefits.

ON THE RECORD

"Urgent care centers continue to expand their scope of services, catering to the needs of local patient populations," said Laurel Stoimenoff, CEO of UCA. "Specialty services such as occupational medicine, pediatric care and telemedicine are becoming more prevalent, increasing access for patients across the country, particularly in underserved communities. These services help alleviate crowded emergency departments while reducing the impact of physician shortages in communities nationwide."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

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