Urgent care centers provide walk-in, extended hour access for acute illness and injury care that are either beyond the scope or availability of the typical primary care practice or retail clinic. Urgent care centers are however not a replacement for emergency rooms. There are over 8,500 urgent care centers in the US. Urgent care centers have a broader and deeper scope of services than retail clinics, but as described above, they are not equivalent to emergency rooms.
Urgent care centers play a valuable role in reserving emergency room resources for more serious, life-threatening conditions. There are many studies by the CDC and others that identify significant numbers of patients who went to an ER that could have been treated in urgent care center. This results in clogged emergency room waiting areas. Patients spend upward of an hour waiting in the emergency room waiting areas to be seen for minor illnesses that could have been taken care of in urgent care center at a fraction of the cost. The ability of an urgent care center to provide immediate care for acute, non-life threatening illness and injury is a critical component of any community’s health system. Primary physicians, emergency departments and urgent care providers can create a network of care options that puts the patient in the right hands at the right time for the right level of care.