Low costs and convenience are driving an increase in urgent care centers across the United States, and analysts say the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is likely to accelerate that increase.
Urgent care centers typically offer weekend and evening hours to treat common injuries and illnesses, and provide simple tests and screenings. The centers do not perform surgeries and are not equipped to deal with life-threatening emergencies.
Since 2008, the number of urgent care centers nationwide has increased from 8,000 to 9,300, and about three million patients visit the facilities per week, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. Analysts say they expect the urgent care industry to grow significantly in 2014, when an estimated 30 million newly insured U.S. residents will enter the health care market as a result of the ACA. Several hospitals in recent years have established their own urgent care centers or acquired existing facilities.
However, one official with a physician group cautioned that overreliance on the facilities can complicate efforts to coordinate patient care. Glen Stream—president of the American Academy of Family Physicians—said family physicians tend to "take a more holistic view of a person," noting that such physicians might seek to identify a more serious, underlying cause for a minor medical problem (Galewitz, Kaiser Health News/Washington Post, 9/17).