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Urgent care centers in the healthcare market

For an ankle sprain, a sore throat, or an eye irritation, where do you go when the pain is bad enough to seek medical help, but not severe enough to warrant a hospital stay? Most people would answer, “Obviously, the emergency department!”. But that option carries the risk of being rejected for treatment or worse still, a huge bill for a relatively short consultation and standard over-the-counter painkillers.

Generally, most people are unaware that urgent care centers play an integral role in providing frontline primary healthcare, alongside General Practitioners (GPs). Not only do they supplement the healthcare market, but they offer people with a simpler, convenient, and cheaper alternative to receiving treatment at the emergency department.

For this Pacific Prime article, we will discuss the role of urgent care centers and explore the benefits that come with them.

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What are urgent health centers?

Urgent care centers are typically walk-in facilities that focus on ambulatory care with dedicated medical equipment and healthcare professionals. Health conditions that are typically seen at urgent care centers include:

  • Accidents and falls that are not serious
  • Cuts that don’t involve much blood but might need stitches
  • Breathing difficulties, such as mild to moderate asthma
  • Diagnostic services, including X-rays and laboratory tests
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever or flu
  • Minor broken bones and fractures in fingers or toes
  • Moderate back problems
  • Severe sore throat or cough
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration

What is considered an emergency?

In general, an emergency condition is one that can permanently impair or endanger your life, such as a stroke or heart attack. Urgent care centers can serve as a first step in the patient’s pathway by referring patients to follow-up appointments or emergency departments. Some examples of conditions that need emergency medical care include:

  • Compound fracture, which involves a bone protruding through the skin
  • Convulsions, seizures, or loss of consciousness
  • Deep knife wounds or gunshot wounds
  • Fever in a newborn less than 3 months old
  • Heavy, uncontrollable bleeding
  • Moderate to severe burns
  • Poisoning
  • Pregnancy-related problems
  • Serious head, neck, or back injury
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain that lasts longer than two minutes
  • Stroke symptoms, such as vision loss, sudden numbness, weakness, slurred speech, or confusion
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

Urgent care centers in the USA and UK

The healthcare market around the globe has witnessed rapid change due in part to the large consumer demand for more choices, convenience, better control, and additional benefits.

Urgent care centers in the United States of America (USA)

In the USA, long waits for appointments with primary care providers, difficulty with same-day access for sick care, limited access to after-hours care, and extended emergency department waiting times have been reasons for increasing the number of urgent health centers. Given their extended hours, availability of unscheduled appointments, and the range of services they provide, urgent care centers are uniquely positioned within the healthcare market to address patients needing non-life threatening medical care.

According to Consumer Reports, the number of urgent care facilities increased from 6,400 in 2014 to 8,774 by November 2018. This significant increase reflects the demand for urgent health centers in the USA, especially from millennials who are leading the way in driving demand and their increased use of urgent care centers. As for baby boomers, urgent care centers account for nearly 27% of all visits in 2018.

In the U.S, urgent health centers are owned and run by different public and private entities. 15% of urgent health centers are hospital-owned, 14% of centers are privately owned by two or more physicians, 39% are run by a corporate organization, and 10% are run by a single physician.

Urgent care (treatment) centers in the United Kingdom (UK)

Across the Atlantic, the UK has GP-led urgent treatment centers (UTC) that are open 12 hours a day, every day. These UTCs work alongside other parts of the urgent care network including primary care, community pharmacists, ambulance, and other community-based services.

The primary purpose of UTCs is to provide a locally accessible and convenient alternative to Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments that patients can go to. Additionally, they help to ease the pressure on hospitals so that A&E departments only see patients with life-threatening conditions.

Benefits of urgent care centers

Urgent care centers have had a major impact on the healthcare industry because they provide several benefits to patients and are good alternatives to emergency treatment. Here are some of the points listed below:

  • Urgent care centers offer people a cheaper and faster alternative to emergency room treatment for the same condition. According to Nicole Commander, Manager of Assist & Medical Management at US-based Seven Corners, “Urgent care is much more cost-effective in comparison to ER. Urgent care costs on average are 10 times lower than ER costs.” In addition, she added, “Urgent care provides patients with a more diverse array of services than family doctors. Many facilities are equipped with in-house laboratory testing and diagnostic imaging equipment, such as CT scanners and X-ray machines.”
  • Urgent treatment centers are beneficial for individuals that need medical attention but do not want to wait in a queue for a long time, or be turned away from the emergency department. According to the Urgent Care Association of America, in urgent care centers, more than 80% of patients only have to wait for 15 minutes or less before they receive treatment.
  • Urgent care centers typically operate on a ‘walk-in’ basis which means that patients are not required to make an appointment with the doctor before receiving care.
  • Most urgent care centers are open seven days a week and have convenient opening and closing hours like urgent treatment centers in the UK.
  • In most cases, urgent care centers provide high-quality care to all patients. The level of care is normally the same as the level of care and treatment found at primary care hospitals.
  • For expats and travelers that move to live abroad with their family and require a straight forward, easy access point to the medical system, urgent care centers may provide them with the services needed.

Want to find out more?

Our team of health insurance experts at Pacific Prime are on hand to help individuals and their loved ones secure the right health plan for their needs when traveling or living in another country.

Refer to our guides, articles, and infographics to gain more insight into the world of insurance. Contact us if you are looking for impartial advice or a free quote today.

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Content Creator at Pacific Prime
Jimmy is a content writer who helps simplify insurance for readers interested in international private medical insurance. He is on a mission in Thailand to support locals, expatriates, and businesses by bring the latest news and updates to his Pacific Prime blog articles.

His expert view and wealth of knowledge on insurance can also be found in his blogs for China, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Singapore.