Urgent care. It is a phrase that conjures up an image of hospital rooms, with patients sitting on beds with a white cloth put over them. It is a phrase that denotes ill health, a series patients with serious illnesses that need to be treated. A red cross perhaps. But it also a form of treatment that serves many patients. It is the bridge in medical care.
Urgent care began in the 1980’s, when there were only two options for medical care: the primary care physician and the hospital. Patients were forced to choose between those two options and both had detriments. A primary care physician generally needed appointments to see people. Same day appointments were rare. And the hospital was expensive.
Today, urgent care forms that bridge between the two modes of treatment. Urgent care is same day care and on a walk-in basis. Patients with severe illnesses or minor illnesses can receive care when they walk in, as opposed to making an appointment. This gives them an avenue beyond the primary care physician.
And an urgent care center is less expensive than an emergency room, which offers the same walk-in possibility. An emergency room visit can run into the thousands of dollars and without insurance, patients would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars. Generally urgent care can be seen with a low co-pay, usually less than a hundred dollars.
And if the person doesn’t have insurance, the cost doesn’t rise into the thousands. Generally, it stays in the several hundred dollar range.
This makes sense, as urgent care centers are not equipped to handle life-threatening conditions and don’t have the equipment of a hospital. However, they do handle serious illnesses and minor illnesses, for which they can use diagnostic equipment like x-rays to diagnose.
For some of the illnesses treated in urgent care centers, there is a list. They include itchy eyes, lacerations, the headache, flu treatment, fever, how to treat shortness of breath, and more. They are ER care without the wait, and they serve as a medical center and medical clinic. They are considered local emergency clinics.
Some statistics about urgent care centers include:
- There are currently 20,000 physicians who practice Urgent Care Medicine today. Urgent Care professionals have developed Urgent Care Medicine into a recognized specialty that represents this fast-growing medical field.
- There are approximately 9,300 walk-in urgent care centers in the United States, and 50-100 new clinics open every year (numbers fluctuate with corporate buy overs).
- According to a private study, approximately 44-65% of all ER episodes could have been treated in urgent care clinic settings.
- An urgent care-treatable case handled in a hospital emergency room costs an average of $2,039, while the same case treated in an urgent care facility would run approximately $226.
- Nearly all urgent care centers in 2014 operate seven days a week (97% and are open at least 4 hours per day (99%).
- Urgent care clinics average seven exam/treatment rooms.
- The average patient-per-hour ratio for urgent care physicians is 4.5 patients per hour, according to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine. This will vary on the severity or acuity of the patient’s conditions.
Urgent care centers generally have equipment that diagnoses or helps to diagnose illnesses and injuries. The illnesses may be minor illnesses or major illnesses. They may also be injuries like sprained ankles or broken bones. Many urgent care centers have x-ray equipment to help with the imaging of those injuries.
The urgent care center gives patients an option for how to receive treatment. A patient no longer has to wait to see a primary care physician, especially if they have an urgent condition. And there is no need to go to a hospital, where the cost would run into the thousands.
Urgent care is now synonymous with care that is immediate for injuries or illnesses that are serious but not life threatening. It is possible to get immediate assistance but not necessarily for life threatening cases in an urgent care center. It is also possible to get qualified doctors to look at the injuries and minor illnesses.
Most urgent care centers have a doctor in the building and many of them have a mid-level provider who is also in the building. These give patients an option for treatment and effective treatment.