Urgent Care is the hottest thing going these days.
What started back in the early-to-mid 1980s as somewhat of an oddity, and was pejoratively referred to as “Doc-in-a-Box,” the urgent care clinic is now as familiar to the landscape of America as McDonald’s, Starbucks and the corner gas station.
And big business it is.
According to the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA), the global urgent care market is expected to reach $30.5 billion by 2020, up from $23.5 billion in 2013. The UCAOA estimates that there are 7100 urgent care centers in the United States today.
The urgent care concept caught on quickly with healthcare consumers. The extended hours were especially appealing. Most of these clinics are open on weekends and after working hours Monday through Friday.
Urgent care clinics are also in strategic locations that are easily accessible, such as strip malls and shopping centers, or close to other high-traffic retail centers. The familiar retail setting and quick, walk-in-anytime access to care also makes urgent care more user-friendly than a traditional primary care office, which is often located in a medical office building complex or next to a hospital.
Lately, many corporate players, attracted to the profitability of the urgent care business, have invested substantially in this model. Such investors include hospital systems such as Banner Health and Tenet Healthcare, and health insurance companies such as UnitedHealthcare, through its OptumHealth division, and many smaller private firms.
Lying somewhere on the care continuum between primary care and the emergency department, urgent care has become the predominant choice for many healthcare consumers, especially for busy working families and millennials. This trend is very concerning to many doctors and their professional organizations.
Their fear grew when Walgreens and CVS placed clinics inside their stores, with the medical care being provided by nurse practitioners. There are now approximately 400 health clinics in select Walgreens stores throughout the country . Similarly, MinuteClinic, the retail medical arm of CVS Health, now boasts more than 1,100 retail clinics in 33 states and the District of Columbia .
“Care delivered in retail clinics can be a component of patient-centered care, but must work in coordination with the patients’ primary care physician to ensure that care is not further fragmented,” according to the Policy on Retail Clinics from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), an organization which represents 124,900 physicians and medical students nationwide.