Urgent care center revenues reached $15 billion in 2017, according to Kalorama Information, a healthcare research publisher, with more than 10,000 urgent care clinic locations.1

To say that the growth of urgent care in America has been explosive would be an understatement, as I have discussed in a previous Medical Bag article.

However, some perspective on the urgent care market is needed. For this perspective, I turned to one of the top researchers on consumer-driven health care in the country, Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, associate professor of healthcare policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School. The following interview is from our recent telephone conversation.

Dr Cooper: Some say that the urgent care business is the hottest thing going since freshly baked, sliced, buttered bread. Many in the healthcare industry are jumping headlong into urgent care — hospital systems, managed care companies, and large venture capital groups. Do you think the urgent care business is one of the fastest growing areas in health care today?

Dr Mehrotra: Undoubtedly. But it’s wise to keep in mind that urgent care clinics represent only one of many aspects of what I like to call “convenience care.” Convenience care includes retail clinics, urgent care clinics, telephone visits, telemedicine encounters, live e-visits, and even computer kiosks. All of these options have at their heart a common theme — convenience, convenience, convenience! 

Dr Cooper: So what’s driving this trend?

Dr Mehrotra: Urgent Care and these other so-called “convenience options” are the result of technological innovation and are filling a gap in the healthcare marketplace. Consider, for example, the changes brought about by the personal computer — the iPhone and similar devices. We can now order consumer goods on Amazon.com instead of going to a shopping mall, or “e-order” our food in advance — all at the touch of a button.

Twenty-five years ago, the choice of where to go for healthcare needs was much more clear-cut. Patients could go to a primary-care doctor or, in the case of an emergency, they could go to the ER.

But today, patients have all kinds of different care options. Lacking clinical training, many patients don’t know what is the most appropriate avenue for care, so they often take the path of least resistance. They access the care that’s fastest and most convenient for them. This can certainly include urgent care.