The last decade has been a time of dramatic changes in the healthcare industry, including the urgent care sector specifically. With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and a greater focus on medical efficiency, the landscape of urgent care has changed dramatically.
In this blog, we summarize five of the urgent care trends that became established over the course of 2017.
1. Better Distinction Between Urgent Care and ERs
While urgent care centers and emergency rooms at hospitals serve similar purposes in that they handle acute injury and illness, there's a clear distinction between the two. As recently as 2016, almost 30% of the cases seen in the average ER could have been dealt with at an urgent care center.
More patients have begun to properly utilize urgent cares and ERs as separate types of health care this year. Experts note that this trend may be due in part to the prevalence of ACA coverage, which allows more patients to choose the appropriate care without worrying about the cost.
Additionally, some insurers have begun to hold patients who visit the ER when they should have gone to an urgent care center liable for the entire cost of the visit, prompting more patients to correctly choose urgent cares.
2. More Centers
One of the most important changes in the urgent care landscape in 2017 is the increased availability of this type of care for patients. Records show that there are now well over 100,000 urgent care centers in the United States.
With more urgent care centers opening, a larger number of patients have easy access to urgent care for routine, minor emergency, and specialized care. For example, patients who may have had to visit their local hospital for imaging and their primary care physician for physical exams in the past may now get those services at an urgent care.
3. More Efficient Systems
In order to facilitate better patient use of urgent care services, many urgent cares have prioritized upgrading their systems. Many urgent care centers in metropolitan areas especially now offer digital check-in and appointment services to optimize the reception areas of their buildings.
Some urgent care centers have also switched from immediate billing to mailed billing, which allows patients to cycle through the centers at a faster rate because the reception staff have fewer tasks to handle.
4. New Types of Health Care Clinics
While the line between urgent care centers and ERs has become more distinct this year, 2017 has also seen the emergence of more hybrid and speciality healthcare centers. These center types are intended to further cover the gaps between hospital and urgent care service to better serve patients.
Examples of these new clinic types include concierge style clinics and urgent care/emergency hybrids. In concierge clinics, patients build a closer relationship with their physician and only go to other medical establishments for hospital care.
Hybrid clinics expand on the services offered at an urgent care center by tackling some of the work typically left to hospitals, like lab work. These clinics can do most acute health care tasks except accommodate ambulances.
5. Reduced Health Care Costs
Healthcare spending has been unpredictable in 2017. However, many experts report patients utilizing healthcare services more often and paying less for these services overall.
This combination of more care for lower costs is caused in part to the increased use of urgent care centers, which typically cost substantially less than ERs, even without insurance coverage.
The field of health care changes constantly and 2017 introduced numerous trends in urgent care coverage that are likely to continue to expand and develop in the upcoming years.
To learn more about urgent care and how services offered in these centers can close the gaps in your general and emergency medical care, browse the Physicians & Surgeons Family Medicine & General Practice website.