Recent statistics reveal that most Americans are visiting urgent care centers more frequently than an emergency room (ER) or their primary care physician (PCP). A recent poll titled “Patients’ Perspectives on Health Care in the United States: A Look At Seven States & The Nation,” released by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reports that most people disclosed they have visited an urgent care center rather than their PCP or an ER because they believe it is more convenient, takes less time than going to their regular doctor, and it may be cheaper.
Because urgent care centers are designed to treat same-day problems (ie, finger cut, sprained ankle, severe sore throat) and not meant for life-threatening emergencies (ie, heart attack, stroke, major trauma), urgent care centers have become a “bridge” between the PCP’s office and the hospital ER.
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Max Lebow, MD, MPH, MBA, FACEP, FACPM, president of Reliant Immediate Care,told NPR that in his time working in a hospital ER, he saw many people who “never should have been in the ER in the first place." He also said that an estimated 20% of the ER patients are actually admitted to the hospital, which means that about 80% are sent home. In a special feature on emergency care report, the CDC reported that even higher percentage tend to leave the ER without needing a hospital stay. Of those patients, an estimated 75% could be seen in a less intensive setting—such as an urgent care center—according to Lebow.
Many hospital ERs charge a "facility fee" just to walk in the door, usually ranging from $300 to $500. That fee helps cover the cost of having on hand, 24/7, all the equipment and staff needed to treat even the most extreme emergencies. The CDC report also discovered that visits to the ER could easily run more than $1000 for adults. While a patient who visits an urgent care centered is usually charged around $150.
Most poll participants said they found the cost of their visits "reasonable," and the majority—75%—rated the care they received as "excellent" or "good."
Most urgent care centers take private insurance and Medicare. Roger Hicks, MD, emergency medical doctor on the governing board, Urgent Care Association of America said that although some don't take Medicaid, the reimbursement doesn't cover the cost of providing care. Uninsured patients have to pay cash.—Alessia D’Anna
- Can’t get in to see your doctor? Many patients turn to urgent care. NPR. March 7, 2016.
- Patients’ perspectives on health care in the United States: a look at the seven states & the nation. http://www.npr.org/assets/img/2016/02/26/PatientPerspectives.pdf. NPR. Published February 2016. Accessed March 7, 2016.
- The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2012: with special feature on emergency care. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus12.pdf. Published 2013. Accessed March 7, 2016.