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Urgent Care Center Report

By July 18, 2013Commentary

It would be hard for a consumer not to notice the growth in urgent care centers and urgent care advertising over the last few years.  And it is hard not to wonder what the effect on health care spending is for those centers.  A report from the Center for Studying Health System Change examines the effect of these centers.   (CSHSC Report)   Amid concerns over the use and cost of emergency departments, coupled with often-stressed primary care resources, urgent care centers, which now number more than 9,000,  have become an alternative that is often promoted even by payers.  While they tend to be more slightly more expensive than regular primary care, they are less costly than emergency rooms.  And for provider systems they may be a competitive alternative to retail and on site clinics that address some of the same needs.  The Center surveyed interested parties in six cities–Detroit, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, Raleigh-Durham, Phoenix and San Francisco–to get perspectives on the growth and use of urgent care.  They found that the growth of the centers was driven by a desire to respond to consumer needs for convenience  and for service when their primary care source was not open.  The centers have largely been opened in urban and suburban areas, usually somewhat well-off, and are aimed at self-pay or commercially insured patients.  Most are owned by physicians or hospitals, but some by private companies.  While payers have been leery, many have come to see urgent care as a potential money-saver and have adjusted copays accordingly.  Continuity of care concerns have been expressed, but increased use of EHRs and HIEs allows for amelioration of some of those concerns and many urgent care users, especially younger patients, don’t have a regular source of primary care.  Overall, the report seems positive, but notes that careful monitoring and further research is probably necessary to ascertain the beneficial or negative effects of a growth in urgent care.

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