Urgency or Emergency? The Wrong Answer Could Be Costly

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Urgent Care Association of America Kicks off Campaign to Educate Patients About When They Should Use Urgent Care Instead of an Emergency Room

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Urgent care is growing across the country because it provides patients with an alternative to the emergency room, which can be too costly and time-consuming for many situations

When unexpected health mishaps arise, many people’s first reaction is to head to an emergency room. But when those illnesses and injuries aren’t true emergencies, not knowing the best option for care – or, in the case of newly-emerging freestanding emergency rooms, not understanding the types of facilities at which they’re seeking treatment – can end up costing patients both time and money.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA), the nearly 7,100 urgent care centers in the United States provide walk-in and extended hour access for a variety of illnesses and injuries that aren’t serious enough for the emergency room. In fact, up to 27 percent of all ER visits could take place at an urgent care center or retail clinic, generating potential costs savings of approximately $4.4 billion annually (Health Affairs).

“Urgent care is growing across the country because it provides patients with an alternative to the emergency room, which can be too costly and time-consuming for many situations,” said Dr. Robert Kimball, president of the Board of Directors, UCAOA. “While ERs are best equipped to handle life-threatening illnesses and injuries, it’s important that patients are aware that there are more affordable options available for less serious situations.”

With 89 percent of urgent care centers experiencing an increase in patient visits in 2014*, the trend of industry growth ensures that more patients will continue to have cost- and time-saving healthcare options. Most urgent care centers (90 percent) provide a waiting time of 30 minutes or less to see a provider, and at 84 percent of centers, patients spend 60 minutes or less for an entire patient visit.*

UCAOA data also indicates that 98 percent of patients who visit urgent care centers are in the appropriate care setting – with only two percent needing emergency room diversion.*

“When people know where to go based on their circumstances, the system works best,” said Dr. Kimball. “But with a growing variety of facilities available, patients need to take care to understand their options. The emergence of free-standing emergency rooms is especially concerning, because they look like urgent care centers. But while they may seem convenient at the time, the emergency room prices can cause sticker shock for patients who aren’t aware of the distinction.”

When seeking care for non-life threatening situations, patients should make sure that the facility they’re visiting identifies itself as an urgent care or immediate care center, and not as an emergency department. Patients can find a conveniently-located urgent care center near them at http://www.whereisurgentcare.com.

Urgent care is not appropriate for all situations and is not appropriate for emergency care. More information about the differences between emergency rooms, free-standing emergency rooms and urgent care centers can be found at http://www.ucaoa.org.

*UCAOA 2015 Benchmarking Survey. The full survey which addresses other industry topics including differences in urgent care centers by region, characteristics of urgent care centers based on types of ownership and various revenue correlations, is available for purchase by both members and non-members – including media – on the UCAOA website.

About the Urgent Care Association of America
The Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA) is a membership association for urgent care health and management professionals, clinics and those who support the urgent care industry. UCAOA provides educational programs in clinical care and practice management, has a monthly Journal of Urgent Care Medicine and maintains an active online presence and member community for daily exchange of best practices. UCAOA provides leadership, education and resources for the successful practice of urgent care for its members. For more information visit http://www.ucaoa.org.

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Matt Kasik
L.C. Williams & Associates
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