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The “Other” Free Market Healthcare Delivery Solutions: Walk-In Clinics Grow

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By Michael Tetreault, Editor

AUG 3, 2015 – A major driver of the walk-in clinic growth trend is the focus on cost. As more patients with higher deductibles seek out care options, the reduced cost of retail settings is a viable option for routine care. For example, according to one analysis, the typical cost of diagnosing an earache was $59 at a retail or walk-in provider, $95 in doctor’s office, $135 at urgent care, $184 in an emergency room.

It is estimated that there are nearly 11,000 walk-in clinics in America, although it is impossible to calculate an exact number given the variable an ill-defined nature of the category. Urgent care centers make up the largest percentage of walk-in clinics in America with an estimated 9,000 locations nationwide. In fact, consumers often erroneously refer to all walk-in clinics as urgent care centers, and vice versa. Retail clinics are the next most prevalent in the industry with 1,900 locations as of December 1, 2014.

  • The typically quoted number of urgent care centers is approximately 9,000 for the U.S.  This number comes from the UCAOA database and a somewhat manual “count” of the centers UCAOA is aware of.  There is no other national database, since federal registration is not required. Source: 2012 Benchmarking Study; Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA)
  • Urgent care is a category of walk-in clinic focused on the delivery of ambulatory care in a dedicated medical facility outside of a traditional emergency room. Urgent care centers primarily treat injuries or illnesses requiring immediate care, but not serious enough to require an ER visit. Urgent care centers are distinguished from similar ambulatory healthcare centers such as emergency departments and convenient care clinics by their scope of conditions treated and available facilities on-site. While urgent care centers are usually not open 24-hours a day, 70% of centers in the United States open by 8:00 am or earlier and 95% close after 7:00 pm. Although the urgent care movement began in the US, urgent care centers are now an important healthcare delivery component in several other countries, including Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.
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