Traditionally, primary care doctors have found themselves saddled with workloads that interfere with their personal lives. Now, physicians are choosing to leave their busy private practices in favor of the balanced lifestyles associated with running urgent care centers.
This movement and an increase in the needs of aging baby boomers, rising emergency service costs, and several other factors, have led to an explosion in urgent care providers and are causing a shift in how patients are being treated.
1. Driving demand and increasing use.
Aging baby boomers account for 29 percent of the population and remain the largest living adult generation. As of 2016, the 74.1 million members of the baby boomer generation were reaching retirement age and living longer than ever before.
Therefore, elderly patients are expected to begin taxing an already busy healthcare system which, in turn, are requiring more access to medical providers and services.
Considering the increased demand among baby boomers and the 45 percent of millennials without primary care physicians, it’s no wonder that the number of urgent care centers has risen so rapidly.
2. Providing more access to unscheduled care.
Physicians and their staff have recognized the need of patients to have access to unscheduled, on-demand medical care.
Patients will often seek the services of urgent care facilities when their primary care doctors are unavailable to treat them for mild to moderate illnesses and injuries, especially when they are painful or time-sensitive.
With the ability to treat 60 to 80 patients per day, urgent care centers are proving themselves useful in alleviating crowded emergency departments, providing effective referrals, and even in the treatment of slightly more serious ailments.
3. Decreasing out-of-pocket costs.
According to a 2010 study in Health Affairs, urgent care can potentially save patients about $4.4 billion a year.
On average, emergency room treatment cost 10 times more than urgent care where the charges are similar to that of seeing a primary care physician.
Also, increases in high-deductible health insurance plans are pricing patients out of expensive ER visits. 80 percent of the nation’s insured never meet these deductibles and pay up to $8,000 in out-of-pocket costs for their medical care.
4. Increasing staff and services.
The increased demand for urgent care services has caused changes in clinic staffing and the services they provide.
With experience in family, internal, and emergency medicine, at least one physician is employed by 65 percent of currently operational urgent care centers.
Supported by nurses, physician assistants, and medical assistants, these facilities continue to provide patients with the treatment of non-emergent injuries and illnesses. Recently, many urgent care facilities have broadened their horizons to include care for more serious ailments.
5. Shaking up the healthcare economy.
Patients and providers are not the only ones benefiting from the increased use of urgent care services.
Now that many managed care organizations require patients’ use of urgent care centers, specialty services are on the rise. Physicians will often treat broken bones and administer x-rays, stitches, blood tests, IVs, for such specialties as occupational and pediatric health.
The wide range of services and equipment offered by manufacturers and medical supply distributors are now being utilized by urgent care clinics as well.
Across the United States, urgent care clinics have adopted a new customer-first approach that is much more focused on service than it had been in the past. Clearly, the causes of increased demand for urgent care treatment have resulted in many changes within the industry in a fairly short amount of time.