Urgent Care: the Goldilocks Model of Medical Care

Though they aren’t a new model of health care clinic, urgent care facilities are finding a particularly popular niche — a lucrative Goldilocks zone — in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. The lack of health insurance for many Americans has made them now more likely to visit urgent care centers in favor of their regular doctor (if they even have one) or the emergency room. Additionally, the fact that urgent care is an experience somewhere between the costly and crowded emergency room and the wait and inconvenience associated with seeing a primary care physician in his or her office, urgent care has become an ideal alternative.

The ACA (better known as Obamacare) means that many more Americans have health care and will be much more likely to seek treatment than before. If they absolutely did need treatment the previously uninsured became accustomed to the ER brand of treatment, which is immediate in comparison to waiting days to see a regular doctor. The previously uninsured are also less attached to seeing a regular doctor since they probably didn’t have one before. Urgent care then becomes a comfortable and convenient health care solution.

There are other reasons that encourage people to consider going to urgent care, which are largely related to money and time. There are plenty of urgent care centers for people to visit; there about 9,000 in the U.S. More than three quarters of urgent care visits are done in an hour or less, and the wait time at about 70% of urgent care clinics averages less than twenty minutes, which is really helpful to avoid missing work or school. Urgent care centers are also typically open by 8am, unlike many primary care offices which are open fewer hours. At this point, while the Goldilocks appeal of urgent care is causing an increase in the number of patients who visit them, they still aren’t as crowded as some emergency rooms; one ER in particular has seen a 12% monthly increase in patients, according to The Courier Journal.

If an injury of illness needs attention but not enough to justify the price tag of an emergency room visit or the often lengthy wait for primary care, it’s almost necessary to explore other options. Though there are retail-type clinics in drug stores, according to The Times-Picayune they simply aren’t equipped to handle the more serious but non-life threatening injuries that urgent care centers can. For example, the majority of urgent care centers in the U.S. can perform splinting procedures and care for bone fractures. The care doesn’t stop there; urgent care centers can also prescribe medications such as antibiotics and painkillers, and judge a patients needs.

Illnesses and injuries happen, and now that the ACA has insured more people, they’ll be more likely to seek treatment. As it lies somewhere between the too expensive and too crowded ER, and the too distant and too inconvenient primary care appointment, many Americans are finding that urgent care is — as Goldilocks so aptly put it — “just right.”

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