The economic downturn, looming entitlement reforms and potential budget cuts in the United States at the federal and state level are allowing the growth of urgent care clinics, otherwise known as immediate care clinics, to substantially increase. This is considered to be a remedy to fill in the growing doctor shortage.
According to industry reports and spending by large healthcare operators, the number of urgent care clinics is projected to soar within the next decade. It is estimated that more than 8,000 urgent care clinics have been established - other numbers show 9,000 - and the Urgent Care Association of America reports eight to 10 percent annual growth.
Urgent care facilities are different than traditional hospitals and are rather similar to the health clinics found in places like Walmart and Walgreen because they are usually open on evenings and weekends and treat common health issues - some immediate care clinics do offer additional services like X-rays for broken bones.
Some medical professionals like to consider their urgent care clinics as after-hours doctors' offices. Most of those who work in such an office do note, however, patients may not get to see a board-certified doctor or another kind of specialist.
A large percentage of walk-in clinics and urgent care offices are managed and operated by non-profit health systems, which receive donations and contributions in order to pay for construction and renovation costs, patient care program support, general operations costs and equipment purchases, according to the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy's (AHP) annual Report on Giving study.
With so many of these operations setting up in malls, main streets and in major metropolitan cities, can the non-profit sector even pay for them? Well, Reuters is reporting that private equity firms have been investing money into urgent care clinics over the past few years. Although there is a tremendous risk in investing in these clinics because of the possibility of oversaturation and low insurance reimbursements, these firms work one-on-one with clinics to provide quality and to make profit.
Rand Health found that retailers are entering the healthcare marketplace too. Big box stores, such as Target and Walmart, only had a few of these clinics in the year 2000, but today there are more than 1,200.
"Retail clinics emphasize convenience, with extended weekend and evening hours, no appointments, and short wait times," the organization states in its report. "More than 44 percent of retail clinic visits take place when physician offices are typically closed. Price transparency and low costs may also be particularly attractive for people without insurance."
This is surely part of the profit-motive for these corporations.
Regardless of the concerns one may have over the private sector getting involved in such an industry, urgent care clinics are part of the nation's future healthcare market, especially since President Obama's Affordable Care Act is now law of the land and will add a burden to the system.
"Many factors could influence the future of retail clinics in the U.S. First, the growing body of evidence casting doubt on quality-of-care concerns could lead to greater acceptance and use of retail clinics," Rand added.
"Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could also lead to continued retail clinic growth. With more people insured and an increased demand for primary care under the ACA, access to primary care physicians could decrease. This may lead to increased demand for retail clinics. Similarly, if wait times for physician appointments increase-as has been the case in Massachusetts following its health reform-this could also increase retail clinic demand."
Despite the concerns that some may have about private investment possibly cutting costs to increase its bottom line, urgent care clinics must offer remedies to health issues otherwise the consumer will go elsewhere to receive proper medical attention.