In the 1970s, several emergency room doctor saw that there was a need for after hours and weekend health care. They also saw that people needed to be able to see a doctor or bring their child to one without making an appointment and the urgent care center was born. Today, with over 7,600 urgent care centers in the United States, it has been reported that three million people are seen in these clinics every week, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. Most are open after regular doctors’ office close, before they open and on the weekend. For matters that happen in the middle of the night, there are 24 hour pediatric urgent care centers around the nation as well.
Forbes recently published a piece on the growth of the industry. They predict that the market for urgent care clinics and 24 hour pediatric urgent care centers will grow by about 5.8% during the next 12 months.
A lot of the growth over the past few decades has been because these centers really fill a need. If a person has a choice to take their child to a local hospital emergency room or to one of the 24 hour pediatric urgent care centers, the chances are good they are going to go with the latter.
Another reason for all of the growth in the market is the entry of larger healthcare companies. Some that have jumped into the urgent care fray include UnitedHealth and the Walgreens Boots Alliance. They are expected to build and run more of the walk-in clinics, which will be a big factor in pushing the market even higher in 2018.
The Urgent Care Association of America reported that this industry is poised for more record growth. They note that the typical urgent care center or the 24 hour pediatric urgent care centers are equipped to handle more problems than can even be dealt with at a primary care doctor’s office. They also cite the trend towards a value-based payment system for medical professionals and the move to do more to offer health care to entire populations.
A different report, put out by Merchant Medicine, sees other growth factors that are influencing the urgent care industry. They note that some of the independent groups that manage these urgent care clinics are also growing rapidly. They mention companies such as CityMD, Premier, MedExpress, Urgent Team, GoHealth, and Fast Pace. They further note that in 2017, at least 1,688 new urgent care centers were opened around the United States.
UnitedHealh Group’s Optum Health Services owns MedExpress. At least 46 new urgent care centers were opened by MedExpress in 2017. They now operate 244 health clinics and that represented a 23% jump for the company.
Urgent care centers have a lot in common with the new clinics that have been opened in certain pharmacies such as CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens. More and more people are opting to get their health care needs to be tended to at urgent care centers or in retail clinics because these health care delivery options are better for their schedule. The main difference between the retail operations and the urgent care centers is that the latter have board certified doctors on staff, while the retail spots do not. Also, urgent care centers can treat injuries such as broken bones and retail clinics cannot handle those problems. The number of problems that can be treated at urgent care center is larger than what can be helped at retail locations.
In recent years, health insurance carriers have embraced urgent care centers as good ways to keep people healthy and avoid the expense of them going to hospital emergency rooms when they do not need to go to one.
Dr. Nate Newman, former president of the Urgent Care Association of America, has said that the trend towards more people seeking care from urgent care centers and more urgent care facilities open is only going to go up. He believes that advances in technology and efforts to integrate the urgent care centers into the mainstream of healthcare delivery systems will drive the push for more centers to be opened.