The Steady Growth of Urgent Care

The Steady Growth of Urgent Care
Cejka Search
March 12, 2020 02:22 AM (GMT-04:00)
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The number of Urgent Care centers in the US increased by almost 10% in 2019. What does this mean for the state of the industry?


As the healthcare industry evolves, providers must keep up with changing patient demands, including establishing new venues to provide care. The push to move from volume to value is directly related to patient demands for improved access to care, improved communication and an improved overall care experience. In response to this push, the industry is experiencing the steady growth of urgent care facilities across the country. The number of urgent care centers grew by six percent from November 2018 to June 2019, with the nationwide total number of centers nearing 10,000. This steady growth is a notable trend and has piqued the interest of hospital executives. To stay ahead of the curve, healthcare leaders are examining the factors behind this trend and leveraging their strategic plan to stay ahead of the newly emerging challenges.

A Story of Success

The growth of urgent care centers is not an overnight phenomenon. The steady increase in the number of centers can be attributed to a number of factors, including:

  1. Patient Demand. Patients simply do not want to wait when they are in need of care and the longer business hours at urgent care centers, combined with the option for walk-in appointments, caters to the desire for immediate attention in a way that traditional physicians’ offices cannot. Additionally, most urgent care centers provide ground-floor locations easily accessed by disabled or elderly patients, and most have user-friendly online scheduling tools creating a customer-first feeling right from the start.

  2. Lowering Costs. Some patients have traditionally utilized emergency departments, even when their need for care is not a true emergency. Both urgent care centers and hospital-based ERs are utilized for common diagnoses, yet patients report paying fees up to ten times higher for care at a freestanding or hospital-based emergency department. Today, patients are attracted to the lower costs of the urgent care facilities.

  3. Demographic Differences. Millennials account for at least a quarter of all urgent care clinic visits. As the patient population in general continues to age, the elderly demographic requires more and more primary care resources. Right now, Baby Boomers and members of The Silent Generation are loyal to their primary care physicians with only ten percent of seniors utilizing urgent care before seeing a primary care doctor. This means more PCP resources are being dedicated to treating the elderly, which could continue to drive younger patient populations to the faster service of urgent care facilities.

How the Industry is Shifting

In today’s culture of service on demand, there is no limit to the potential growth of urgent care centers. With this knowledge, the healthcare industry is asking itself what role these centers will play going forward. For hospitals and health systems looking to leverage this growth trend, there are three common courses of action:

  • Acquiring urgent care centers
  • Partnering with urgent care centers
  • Establishing urgent care centers as joint ventures

To date, the first two options have faced challenges. Many healthcare leaders suggest these efforts have not yet been profitable because some hospitals are running their urgent care centers with the same operating policies as their emergency room, which is the very environment urgent care patients are trying to avoid. Hospitals and health systems that own urgent care centers through shared management structures, such as joint ventures, have seen more profitable results to date and have more flexibility in terms of branding.

For the rural healthcare communities specifically, the strong growth of urgent care has opened up new opportunities for improved access. From utilizing telemedicine to leveraging retail strategies, these emerging additions to the patient care service industry can allow rural facilities to shift from an inpatient care to an outpatient care model and breathe new life into struggling health organizations.

Looking Ahead

Hospitals and health systems nationwide want to prevent losing patients to alternative care sites, including urgent care facilities. In addition to the loss of revenue from insured patients going elsewhere, physicians in hospital settings are concerned that patients being treated by urgent care facilities do not create an electronic medical record, which can hinder the ability to create long-term records on those patients.

Forward-thinking hospital administrators are aware of these concerns, as well as the challenges for patients in a healthcare environment that has become increasingly complex. The innovations that have come into play to meet these challenges include online patient portals, guaranteed same-day appointments and online patient visits.

To continue to innovate, it is critical to have the right leaders in place. Engaging top leadership talent requires the right network and the right expertise; to learn more, connect with the experts at Cejka Search here.

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