word explains the popularity of urgent care clinics: convenience.
"We are an instant-gratification society," notes Dr. Rita
Hanson, chief medical officer for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.
"That part of our culture extends to our expectations for health
Upward of 40
million people a year go to an urgent care clinic, according to the
Urgent Care Clinic Association of America. There are more than 6,900
urgent cares nationwide, and the association says the number is
increasing by at least 300 clinics a year.
Part of that
growth is coming as major retailers add clinics. In the Milwaukee
area, urgent care now can be found at some Walgreens, CVS and Wal-Mart
stores. (Target also operates clinics, but not at any Wisconsin
urgent cares are seeing their numbers rising. Children’s Hospital of
Wisconsin treated nearly 23,000 patients at its two urgent care
locations in 2014, continuing a trend that began in 2010.
called urgent care, walk-in care or immediate care, the model is
essentially the same: a facility offering evening and weekend hours,
with no appointment needed, for non-life-threatening health problems.
cares serve that niche for those kind of things that do not require
lots of high-tech equipment," says Hanson. "They basically
require minimal equipment and minimal space."
their services, urgent cares keep their expenses down. And that leads
to savings for consumers, compared with the cost of a visit to the
emergency department. Urgent care co-pays vary by insurance plans but
are typically $35 to $100, according to Wheaton Franciscan. Emergency
department co-pays can run $200 due to higher facility charges.
who offer urgent care list up-front pricing on their websites: $40 to
$129 for clinic visits. They also accept many insurance plans, so the
consumer’s cost might be lower than that. But there may be added
fees for lab work.
Aside from cost,
not all urgent cares are the same. Clinics operated by hospital
systems are staffed by physicians as well as physician assistants and
nurse practitioners — and emergency department doctors are just a
phone call away. Some clinics also have on-site labs and X-ray
departments; some even treat minor fractures.
operated by Walgreens, CVS or Wal-Mart, there are PAs and nurse
practitioners, but no doctors. "It’s the thoroughness of the
care," says Dr. Laura Marusinec, an urgent care pediatrician with
Children’s. "We might be looking at an ear infection and may
also notice if the child’s weight doesn’t look good or that they’re
breathing a little fast, for example. I think the retail clinics are
more focused on that one, quick thing."
Walgreens and CVS clinics won’t even treat kids under 18 months of
age; at Wal-Mart, the minimum age of its patients is 2 years.
important distinction is that retail clinics might not be connected to
your electronic medical record and doctor’s office.
is showing that location alone might not determine where a consumer
wants to receive care, according to Hanson. "I might drive past
three (clinics) on a corner that are unconnected to any part of my
health care delivery system to get to the one that is, because of
recognizing that value," she explains.