An estimated three million patients visit urgent-care centers every week instead of going to the nearest hospital emergency room to be treated, the Chicago-based Urgent Care Association of America said.
Dwayne Duckenfield, of Capitol Heights, Md., is one of them.
Duckenfield, 41, visited Concentra Urgent Care after he hurt his elbow and was examined, treated, and prescribed in a little more than an hour.
“This was so convenient, and now I have peace of mind,” he told USA Today.
And increase in demand for urgent-care service has led to an increase in the number of facilities to more than 9,200 across the United States, according to the association.
One of the reasons for their popularity: lower costs.
Urgent-care centers’ fees are at least half those charged at a hospital emergency department for the same condition, although they are similar to what physicians charge for office visits.
Arguments against urgent-care centers focus on quality and consistency of treatment.
“No one really gets to know them, if they use a different urgent care each time,” Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said about patients’ physicians. “One of the best predictors of health outcomes is having a usual source of care where you can go for acute and chronic illnesses and develop a relationship with a doctor.”
According to the USA Today report, about 50 percent of the urgent-care centers in the United States are owned by doctors, while 28 percent are hospital-owned.
Now getting in on the action are insurance companies and hospitals. Last year, Humana bought Concentra’s 300 centers in 40 states.
“We want to make sure we have access to providers in key areas,” said Paul Kusserow, Humana's chief strategy and corporate development officer.
Duke University Health System boasts five urgent-care centers in addition to its 27 physicians’ offices.
“A lot of people don’t have regular doctors, and so this is a way of getting them into our system,” said John Anderson, chief medical officer at Duke Primary Care.