Urgent care centers first appeared in the 1970’s when entrepreneurial physicians opened individual clinics to treat patients with acute medical problems not needing emergency care. Since then, they have expanded to a variety of non-hospital medical care services existing today, most notably, the over 9000 urgent care centers that have appeared throughout the country .
The services that urgent care centers offer might be classed as meeting patients’ immediate, non-life-threatening healthcare needs. These would include injuries such as minor burns, sprains and broken burns; illnesses such as asthma and upper respiratory conditions, abdominal pain, ear infections, strep throat and the flu; diagnostic services and lab work; and vaccinations and other routine health needs. It was estimated in 2012 that 13.7 to 27.1 percent of all emergency department visits could be handled at an urgent care center.
The proliferation of urgent care centers in the nation reflects a changing healthcare landscape and significant shifts in client attitudes and expectations. Here are five reasons why urgent care centers are needed:
Many urgent care centers are located in places that are easily accessible to residents and are open for longer hours during the day and night and on weekends. It was reported that 70 percent are open by or before 8:00 a.m. and 95 percent open beyond 7:00 p.m.. Some provide services 24/7.
The cost of urgent care service may match the charges by a primary care physician, but are much lower than emergency department charges. Here are some estimates and comparisons: the national average for an urgent care visit is $155; in 2012, the average charge for acute bronchitis treatment was $122 at an urgent care center and $814 at an emergency room is usually between one-third and one-tenth of emergency care charges .
Urgent care centers provide walk-in service and the typical wait time is reported to be 30 minutes. This contrasts with a wait of hours at a busy emergency department. To see a primary physician requires an appointment, which may not be available for many days.
Variety of Service
At an urgent care center, one will be provided with a larger variety of service than at a physician’s office, all in one location. Besides emergency care, it’s possible to get blood tests, urine tests, ECGs, digital X rays, vaccination and physical examinations at a time convenient for the patient. X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound and possibly MRIs are available at many centers. Some centers make available the opportunity to see specialists like cardiologists, neurologists and surgeons at that location.
Professional Urgent Care Physicians and Nurse Practitioners
Urgent care medicine was added to the list of certifications by the American Association of Physician Specialties (AAPS) , signifying that this specialty will be added to training of physicians in colleges and universities. Therefore, the future will see more trained specialists available to see the walk-in patients at urgent care centers. This will likely be followed by training of nurse practitioners at schools of nursing .
Many of these centers are now seeking Urgent Care Center Accreditation . This is another sign of the increasing professionalization of these medical providers, and assures a place for the urgent care center in the health care system of the nation.