How Urgent Care Clinics are Evolving
Besides relying on walk-in traffic from patients, clinic leaders are also exploring new medical services to differentiate themselves and to better coordinate care.
This article appears in the September 2015 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
It is hard to get a firm count on the number of urgent care centers in the United States. The Urgent Care Association of America says there are more than 6,400, while the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine puts the number as high as 9,300. What is clear, though, is the growth of this care model. As hospitals and health system leaders evaluate the risks and rewards of urgent care, there are strategic considerations that may seem unimportant on the surface, but can lead to complications later on.
Take, for example, the difficulty in determining the number of urgent care centers. It stems from the lack of standardization in states' regulation of urgent care facilities. Generally, most states view urgent care centers as a physician office with extended hours. A few states, such as Arizona, attempt to regulate urgent care clinics through licensure. And some states require a certificate of need for urgent care centers. The differences in state regulations are an important issue, especially if a healthcare organization's footprint extends across state lines.
Another issue to consider is whether an urgent care center perpetuates the fragmented nature of healthcare. Hospital and health system leaders have repeatedly said that care coordination is imperative to achieve better quality, cost, and outcomes. Will patients, who are in a hurry, especially when seeking an urgent care center, get so used to the easy access and quick service that they forgo seeing or keeping their primary care physician in the loop?