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10,000 locations across the country

U.S. urgent care clinic market hit $15 billion this year

by Lauren Dubinsky , Senior Reporter
The U.S. urgent care clinic market has risen from about $11.8 billion in 2011 to over $15 billion this year, according to market report from Kalorama Information.

There are now more than 10,000 clinics in the country.

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UCCs first came about in the 1970s and have grown since then due to rising health care costs and the demand for convenient care.

There were numerous issues with the early centers, so the concept was put on hold until it re-emerged in 2006 in a more sophisticated way, Thomas Charland, founder and CEO of the consulting firm Merchant Medicine LLC, recently told HCB News. Around that time, many former emergency department physicians with a high net worth began investing in their own practices and opening up UCCs.

Health systems have opened their own UCCs to take some of the load off of their emergency room. Other centers were started by entrepreneurial physicians to meet the market need and turn a profit.

The UCC business model is based on convenience — with wait times kept short and most visits taking 10 to 15 minutes. The majority are open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and are located in freestanding buildings with adequate parking.

UCCs are different from retail clinics in that they are staffed with physicians and treat a wider range of medical conditions. It's intended to supplement the care from the patient's primary care physician.

"Most of the urgent care center market is related to cold, flu, and throat, [and that] will continue to represent the greatest single source of UCC revenue, followed closely by treatment of lacerations and wounds, and fractures and sprains," Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information, said in a statement.

UCCs can be a viable, more affordable alternative to emergency room visits in certain cases. A Health Affairs report from 2010 found that 27 percent of emergency room cases could be seen in UCCs.

Most UCCs have waiting times of 30 minutes or less and the average cost of a visit is $150, compared to a $1,354 visit to the ED, according to a Medical Expenditure Panel survey. A recent white paper from the Urgent Care Association of America estimated that cost savings of UCCs versus emergency departments could be as high as $18.5 billion per year.

The average UCC sees 294 patients per week and about 15,300 per year, according to the report. Patient volume is expected to rise through 2021 to about 300 patients per week, which will increase each UCC's revenue to almost $1.7 million.

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