Urgent care centers increasingly popular with traditional providers

As healthcare shifts toward the outpatient arena, urgent care centers remain popular with consumers looking to receive convenient and affordable treatment for minor conditions, imaging and blood tests.

And traditional healthcare providers are getting on board, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

For instance, Nashville, Tenn.-based Hospital Corporation of America in November acquired Urgent Care Extra's Nevada operations, which include 14 urgent care centers in Las Vegas.

In February, San Francisco-based Dignity Health announced it is teaming up with Atlanta-based GoHealth Urgent Care in a joint venture to bring consumer-focused urgent care to the Bay Area. And Last August, Boston-based Partners HealthCare announced plans to open up to 12 urgent care clinics in the next three years to cater to patients who need medical care, but don't need to go to an emergency room.

These investments are driven partly by the rise in active patients older than 50 who desire convenient care for injuries and illness, but want to be connected to a larger system where their regular physician may practice and where urgent visits can become part of their medical record, Tom Charland, CEO of consulting firm Merchant Medicine, told The Wall Street Journal.

There are nearly 7,100 urgent care centers in the U.S., 22 percent of which are hospital-owned, according to the most updated number from the Urgent Care Association of America. These centers provide full-service urgent care medicine (X-ray, lab, extended hours).

Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor in healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told The Wall Street Journal that health systems may see urgent care centers as a new way to funnel patients into their system and keep existing patients from going to other facilities.

However, health systems aren't the only ones benefitting. The publication notes that urgent care centers connected to a health system offer various benefits for patients, such as convenient care and some assurance that they can be quickly transferred to an emergency room or referred to a primary care physician or specialist.


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