Emerging Trends in Urgent Care

In recent years, emergency rooms have become overcrowded, the number of traditional doctor’s offices available has declined, and healthcare costs have steadily increased. Because of these changes, several new alternatives have become available, changing patient care and how marketers promote it.


Traditional clinics have historically been the first choice for seeking treatment, including old standbys like the doctor’s office, urgent care and the hospital emergency room. Doctor’s offices and urgent care clinics can have long lines for patients, and an urgent care experience can sometimes seem rushed or impersonal since patients aren’t dealing with their regular doctor. Hospital emergency rooms are also seeing high patient volumes, with nearly 27% of visits that could be handled at an urgent care clinic. With this strain on the traditional clinic system, new options are emerging to meet patient demand.


From the chaos of long lines and the uncomfortable feeling patients get when being treated by an unfamiliar physician comes a fast and comfortable solution: hybrid clinics. These freestanding clinics fall somewhere between urgent care and a hospital emergency room. They are either physician or association owned and not affiliated with a hospital. They are focused on comfort and eliminating the wait time while treating patients with a full staff of board-certified doctors and trained emergency professionals. Hybrids can do just about everything that an ER can handle, including lab work. Hybrids cannot accept ambulances but usually have one waiting so high-level emergencies (about 3-5% of patients) can be quickly sent to the hospital. Costs may vary, but patients shouldn’t be surprised to see emergency room pricing in hybrid clinics.


At a concierge-style clinic, patients periodically pay a retainer to cover primary care services. Concierge care clinics cannot accept insurance, but some HSA reimbursement may be available depending upon the physician and procedures. Because concierge care doesn’t cover hospital costs, patients are also advised to have high deductible insurance because in case of emergency. Traditional physicians are increasingly switching to this type of clinic to maintain their personal relationships with patients.


The private emergency room is growing in popularity across the country. Freestanding emergency departments (FEDs) were first legalized in Texas in 2009, and many states still have legal restrictions in place for FEDs that aren’t part of a health system. FEDs have shorter wait times and fewer restrictions than a hospital with the same board-certified physicians and staff. Like hybrids, they cannot accept ambulances, and 3-5% of patients need to be transferred to a hospital emergency room. Costly procedures can be a deterrent for patients, and while the system is rapidly changing, Medicare and Medicaid are not accepted at most FEDs unless they are affiliated with a hospital system.


See our recent campaign for walk-in treatment at Sanford Health for a look at how healthcare organizations can make their marketing friendly, patient-focused and at the forefront of emerging urgent care trends.

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