When it comes to high-growth healthcare fields, urgent care ranks near the top. The growth of the insured population through subsidized premiums and Medicaid expansion has led to a greater demand for primary care. With physician shortages already affecting some areas, hospitals and independent corporations have looked to urgent care services as a solution. Most recently, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) announced it will dramatically increase its number of urgent care locations by nearly 50 across the country by the end of 2017. Urgent care presents unique opportunities for health systems to expand their clinical reach and coordinate care, and most analysts expect urgent care centers to continue their growth over the coming years.
Customer preferences are major drivers of urgent care utilization due to the greater convenience and lower prices available at most facilities. Though many procedures at urgent care centers can be performed at physician offices, often at slightly lower co-pays, the prospect of same-day care appeals to many patients who would otherwise be forced to wait longer before an appointment is available with their primary care physician. And while co-pays are higher, they are usually less expensive than the typical visit to emergency rooms, which have greater built-in costs, such as facility fees.
Even though urgent care centers would appear to compete with hospitals by diverting otherwise profitable patients from the ER, the facilities’ rapid growth across the country over the past few years means health systems cannot afford to ignore the other opportunities they offer. In the case of HCA, urgent care centers have helped reduce overcrowding at its ERs to better serve patients with more acute injuries. Hospital-owned centers can also improve a patient’s overall satisfaction and keep their medical events and reporting within the system, encouraging better care coordination. Getting involved in urgent care can benefit hospitals even if it means partnering with third-party organizations. Only about 15 percent of all urgent care centers are owned by hospitals, according to the 2016 Benchmarking Report Summary released by the Urgent Care Association of America, with another 16 percent operated as part of a joint venture with physicians. In 2014, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center collaborated with a local urgent care provider and witnessed reductions in ER wait times while still maintaining a strong relationship with patients that visited third-party providers.
Top 10 IDNs by Urgent Care Clinics
|IDN||Urgent Care Centers|
|3||Hospital Corporation of America||101|
|4||Advocate Health Care||86|
|6||Aurora Health Care||44|
|7||Baptist Health (KY)||41|
Source: Definitive Healthcare
Many of the IDNs with the most urgent care centers have expanded their reach through acquisitions. Dignity Health purchased US Healthworks in 2012 for $455 million and opened 40 new centers nationwide in the following four years. HCA acquired 24-center CareNow in 2014, and Tenet Healthcare bought over 30 CareSpot locations in 2016 through a joint venture. Many of Advocate Health Care’s locations are the result of buying 56 Walgreens clinics in early 2016. But there are exceptions. Tenet has also launched its own urgent care chain called MedPost in 2014, which now has nearly 50 locations, and nearly all of Carolinas Healthcare’s urgent care centers were launched through its own physician practice network.
Top 10 Non-IDN Urgent Care Center Corporations
|Corporation||Urgent Care Centers|
|3||American Family Care||169|
|4||NextCare Urgent Care||139|
|5||FastMed Urgent Care||124|
|7||Patient First Urgent Care||74|
|8||CityMD Urgent Care||67|
|10||Nova Medical Centers||50|
Source: Definitive Healthcare
Health systems’ investment in urgent care is likely to continue, given the high growth rate of services. In only two years, the total number of urgent care centers jumped 22 percent, according to the Urgent Care Association of America. The aging population and greater insurance coverage is expected to drive continued growth. The market is also expected to consolidate as hospitals and large chains buy up smaller urgent care practices, partly to grow revenue but also to better control care delivery at various stages of the patient experience. For hospitals, a strong urgent care presence is good business.
Definitive Healthcare has the most up-to-date, comprehensive and integrated data on over 7,700 hospitals, 1.4 million physicians, and numerous other healthcare providers. Our new urgent care database offers detailed information on ownership, patient population, and community demographics.