Urgent care entrance Despite thehealth care industry's emphasis on “medical homes,” youngerpatients who only need services on an infrequent basis may preferurgent care clinics. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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The growth of urgent care clinics continues to be strong,with an 8 percent growth rate in the past year, according to a newreport. The Urgent Care Association's (UCA) 2018 Benchmarking Report finds that the number ofurgent care clinics in the U.S. grew from 8,125 in November 2017 to8,744 in November 2018.

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Urgent care centers provide a range of health care services topeople on a walk-in basis, and are seen as a less-expensive optionfor urgent health matters than hospital emergency rooms.

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Related: The cost of unnecessary ER visits for chronicconditions? $8.3 billion

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“Urgent care centers play an increasingly vital role in thecontinuum of care, providing services for a wide array of patientswho may be unable to see a primary care physician for variousreasons, including simply not yet affiliating with one,” said UCACEO Laurel Stoimenoff. “As a result, the patient populationsutilizing urgent care centers are evolving, with Millennialsleading the way in driving demand and increased utilization. And asBaby Boomers are aging into Medicare, we are also seeingyear-over-year growth in that sector as well.”

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The UCA study found that morethan 70 percent of patients waited 20 minutes or less to see aprovider at urgent care centers, and 94 percent had a wait time ofless than half an hour. The group said that the total visit timefor nearly 85 percent of patients was less than an hour at urgentcare clinics.

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The growth of such clinics shows consumer demand for andacceptance of quicker, more convenient health care, and the growingmarket is gaining the interest of industry giants such as Walgreens and CVS. Walgreens has beenpartnering with UnitedHealth Group in offering urgent care clinicsunder the MedExpress brand.

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In a statement to HealthExec, Stoimenoff said urgent care clinicscan supplement primary care but that patients should have a regularprimary care provider. “Urgent care is ideal for episodic,non-emergency events, but should not be considered a replacementfor a patient's medical home, particularly when there are chronicconditions such as hypertension or diabetes needing ongoingoversight,” Stoimenoff said. “Rather, urgent care helps bridge thegap between primary care providers and emergency departments,offering immediate access to services in between visits to primarycare providers.”

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An article in Medical Economics last summer said that theurgent care industry saw 89 million patients in 2017, and the $18billion industry estimates it is accounting for about 30 percent ofprimary care visits annually.

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The article said there are a number of reasons for thepopularity of urgent care beyond the convenience. A 2017 Annals ofEmergency Medicine study found that for the same type of medicalvisits, emergency room visits were 10 times more costly than urgentcare visits. At a time when many consumers have high deductiblesand copays, the lower costs can make a big difference topatients.

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Despite the health care industry's emphasis on medical homes,younger patients who only need services on an infrequent basis mayprefer urgent care clinics. The Medical Economics article saidrural areas are also benefiting from having more urgent carecenters.

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Medical Economics cited a report by FAIR Health, whichfound a 2,308 percent increase in insurance claimsfrom rural urgent care facilities between 2007 to2017, compared to a 1,675 percent increase in urban areas.

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