Why hospitals are starting their own urgent care networks

Clinic may serve as ‘vehicles for managing the health of populations’

A growing number of U.S. hospitals are expanding their urgent care clinic networks to generate referrals, keep patients out of the ED, and boost patient satisfaction, NPR/Kaiser Health News reports.

Although urgent care clinics alone are rarely lucrative, their capacity to boost referrals and generate downstream revenue through follow-up care can make them financially valuable to hospitals and health systems, according to NPR/Kaiser Health News.

For example, Bob Gilbert—president of MedStar Health’s ambulatory services—notes that the health system’s short-term goal for its urgent care clinics is to recruit patients into the system. "If we can’t solve your problem here in our facility, we’ll help you navigate so your problem can get solved," he says, adding, "We’ll be a partner in your care."

In addition, urgent care clinics hold long-term promise as "vehicles for managing the health of populations," Gilbert says. As insurers start paying providers to keep patients healthy and out of the hospital, urgent care centers will increasingly serve as an inexpensive and convenient alternative to EDs or physicians' offices.

Currently, hospitals own about 27% of the nation’s 9,000 urgent care clinics while the rest generally belong to corporations or physicians, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. However, "We’re still in the very early stages of this trend," says Tom Charland, CEO of walk-in clinic consulting firm Merchant Medicine. "I think we’re going to see a lot more hospitals opening urgent care centers," he adds (Gold, NPR/Kaiser Health News, 11/8).

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