These facilities offer medical services primarily to people who either cannot access their primary care physician or do not have one. Most patients are sick or injured, but not badly hurt enough to require emergency care. Commonly treated issues include fevers, stomach pains, diarrhea, and minor cuts and sprains. Many Urgent Care Centers also offer services such as vaccinations, blood tests, and STD testing.
Urgent Care Centers fill a much-needed niche. They help reduce wait times in Emergency Rooms, save patients money, and give ER doctors and nurses the space to focus on real emergencies. Many Urgent Care Centers began outside of the hospital system, seeking to offer a solution to overcrowded ERs. But just because Urgent Care Centers aren’t Emergency Rooms doesn’t mean that they can’t be affiliated with hospitals. In fact, many hospitals are now realizing it may be advantageous, both for themselves and for the patients, to team up with Urgent Cares.
Today there are about 7,100 Urgent Care Centers in the United States. Of those, 22% are owned by hospitals, and 15% more are in partnerships with a hospital. Hospitals can send patients to Urgent Care Centers for follow-up appointments. They can also advertise their affiliated Urgent Cares and encourage patients to visit Urgent Care Centers for non-emergencies.
From patient’s perspectives, Urgent Care Centers that are affiliated with hospitals are more likely to accept Medicare or offer financial aid, while also being considerably cheaper than regular hospitals. And while non-affiliated Urgent Cares usually allow patients to send any information gathered at the center to patients’ regular physicians, with affiliated Urgent Cares the sharing is generally more streamlined.
Also, in general, patients are also more willing to trust an Urgent Care associated with a hospital, especially if that hospital has a good reputation. Unaffiliated Urgent Cares may offer excellent services, but since the whole concept of Urgent Care Centers is still relatively new, affiliated centers have the advantage of familiarity.
It’s uncertain exactly what role Urgent Care Centers will play in the future. New technologies, such as self-diagnosis and self-check-up technologies, will likely be adopted by Urgent Cares even more quickly than they will by more traditional hospitals and independent physicians. And with the shifting climate surrounding American health care, much is still an unknown. Nonetheless, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Urgent Care facilities are here to stay.