Millions of people visit the emergency room each year, but research shows many don’t need to. According to a Milliman study, anywhere from 44 to 65% of all ER visits could have been adequately handled at urgent care centers. That’s an eye-opening statistic and a very important one, considering urgent care is much less costly and also more efficient than care provided in the emergency room.
You’ve probably heard the term urgent care often but may be wondering what is considered urgent care. Basically, urgent care centers offer many of the same services that your regular doctors office would, but they keep extended hours. Whereas most doctor’s offices are only open 8 to 5 Monday through Friday, urgent care centers often are open seven days a week and until 8 or 9 p.m. on weeknights. Urgent care centers may or may not have doctors on staff regularly. About two-thirds of them always have a doctor on staff, but the remaining centers may be staffed only by physicians assistants and/or nurse practitioners. Urgent care centers may be standalone operations or they may be housed inside other retail businesses, such as pharmacies, grocery stores or discount stores. Urgent care centers inside these businesses are often referred to as retail walk-in clinics.
The advantages of using an urgent care center instead of the emergency room are many. For one thing, it typically takes much less time to be seen at a walk-in clinic. About 60% of the time, the wait at an urgent care center is less than 15 minutes, which is much better than the emergency room, where people with relatively minor illnesses or injuries can wait hours. It’s also much cheaper to go to an urgent care center. Usually, the bill won’t be much more than what it would cost to go to your regular doctor, and it may even be cheaper. That compares with visits to your local hospital that can cost hundreds of dollars even if you have just a minor ailment.
People are definitely catching on to the convenience and cost savings of urgent care. An urgent care trade group reports that more than three million people visit an urgent care center each week, which amounts to more than 150 million visits a year. with kids getting sick often and most doctors offices doing nothing to extend their hours, urgent care has become a convenient and necessary alternative.