Urgent Care Centers are the fastest-growing segments of American health care. They have become an important link in the chain of healthcare delivery as they are hypothesized to be a solution for:

  • overcrowded ERs that have higher costs for non-emergent issues [1];

  • millions of newly insured Americans seeking care [2];

  • a new 24/7 concept of family medicine where the need of an appointment or rigid timetables are no longer an issue.

In fact US Family physicians spend a small but nontrivial proportion of their time doing Urgent Care [3] and Urgent Care Centers are in many ways similar to family medicine practices [4], albeit offering a more comprehensive suite of treatments (including X-ray and some analyses) as well as more flexible timetables.

For all these reasons, health systems and even private equity firms sensed the business potentials and have started to invest heavily [5] in this space.

Urgent Care Centers are mainly structured around family physicians (more rarely on emergency or internal medicine doctors) supported by a team of physician assistants and nurses. Physical therapists, Pediatrics and Pharmacists complete the list (see Figure below).

Urgent Care Centers have grown by 78% between 2011 and 2016, while the staff increased by 40% in the same time range, with a 9.4% of them having multiple licenses. The average staff members’ age is 48 years, while the gender composition is 46.63% male versus 53.37% female. An Urgent Care physician had in 2010 a median compensation range of $170.000 to $179.000 a year [6].

Overall, Urgent Care Centers represent fresh job opportunities and a new set of practice choices in an increasingly high demand occupation. With a projected deficit of more than 45,000 primary care physicians by 2020 [7], Healthcare institutions are going to have to work hard to retain their clinicians and keep them engaged.

Urgent Care Centers also represent a more efficient way to contain medical expenses. According to a 2010 study published in Health Affairs [8], $4.4 billion in health costs could have been cut if only 14 to 27% of the patients that visited an Emergency Department had visited a Urgent Care Center instead. This is due to the fact that ER rooms, equipped to handle life-threatening situations, are much more expensive than rooms in Urgent Care Centers. However, many people are not aware of these cost differences – the tab for a typical ER visit typically runs three times higher than an urgent care visit [9]. Not to mention those who are not even aware Urgent Care is an option at all. We are not implying causality here, but it is interesting to note that in 2009 there was a strong inverse correlation between the presence of Urgent Care Centers and Personal Health Care Spending Per Capita: as the number of facilities increased, the average expenses per capita decreased (elaboration based on population data from [10] and expenses data from [11]):

It is thus efficient, both for the Healthcare System and the consumer, to expand Urgent Care Centers availability: since 2009 the number of available Urgent Care Centers each 100,000 people has more than doubled, growing from 0.7 to 1.5 in 2016, as can be seen in the figure below:

It’s clear from the statistics that urgent care makes financial sense for the U.S. healthcare industry, but is the effort homogenous across the country? The data indicates that this is the case as we see a general trend, across all regions infact all the regions at least doubled the number of their centres between 2009 and 2016. South West, Mid East and New England regions did better than the others, as shown in the plot below:

As per a national ranking of the different regions, there is a general alignment on an average of 1.5 Urgent Care Centers each 100,000 people for South East, Rocky Mountains, Mid East, Far West, Great Lakes regions. South West, New England (by far) and South East regions are the top players in the ranking, and they look like the regions where job demand for Urgent Care will be very high. Mid East and Plains regions close the ranking in the lower positions with respectively an average of 1.34 and 1.07 Urgent Care Centers avaiable each 100,000 people. While these regions occupies the lower positions, in the last 5 years they both increased their offer more than better ranked regions. It is thus reasonable to expect high demand for Urgent Care staff also from Mid East and Plains:

So have we reached a saturation point? Or should we expect to see the growth of urgent care centres to continue well into the future. Indications are that we are still on the accelerated growth curve, with established health systems and even integrated insurer providers moving into this space [12]. With the promise of telemedicine still low on the adoption curve and the pressures of population health management decisions, Urgent Care looks to remain the answer.

This article was written by Simone Gabbriellini, Co-founder and Chief Analytics Officer of DocDelta.

DocDelta is a healthcare technology company based in New York. DocDelta has developed new technology that makes it really easy for healthcare managers to hire and retain the best nurses and doctors, currently increasing hiring/retention efficiency by 50%.

Our sourcing and flight risk analytics tools give healthcare administrators the edge in hiring and retaining the very best nurses and physicians.

References

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2. Borkowski S. Solutions for ED Overcrowding: Increasing Urgent Care Centers. Journal of Emergency Nursing. 2012;38(2):116-117.
3. Petterson S, Lars Peterson P MD, Moore M, Finnegan S, Coffman M, Bazemore A. One in Fifteen Family Physicians Principally Provide Emergency or Urgent Care. JABFM. 2014;27(4):447-448.
4. Weinick RM, Bristol SJ, DesRoches CM. Urgent care centers in the U.S.: Findings from a national survey. BMC Health Services Research. 2009;9(79).
5. Creswell J. Race is on to profit from the rise of urgent care. 2014.
6. Result UCBS. Developing Data: Compensation. 2011;5:40.
7. The Impact of Health Care Reform on the Future Supply and Demand for Physicians Updated Projections Through 2025. 2010. https://www.aamc.org/download/158076/data/updated_projections_through_2025.pdf.
8. Weinick R, Burns R, Mehrotra A. Many Emergency Department Visits Could be Managed at Urgent Care Centers and Retail Clinics. Health Aff. 2010;29(9):1630-1636.
9. The Case for Urgent Care. September 2011. https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ucaoa.org/resource/resmgr/Files/WhitePaperTheCaseforUrgentCa.pdf.
10. Bureau USC. 2010 Resident Population Data. http://www.census.gov/2010census/data/.
11. Cuckler G, Martin A, Whittle L, et al. Health Expenditures by State of Residence, 1991-2009. Medicare and Medicaid Research Review. 2011;1(4):E1-E31. https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/NationalHealthAccountsStateHealthAccountsResidence.html.
12. Japsen B. HCA’s Urgent Care Buying Binge Pays Off. Forbes. January 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2016/01/29/hcas-urgent-care-buying-binge-pays-off/#6e6771e0234c.