Medical Surge and the Role of Urgent Care Centers

Executive Summary
In the U.S., approximately 8,100 urgent care centers—medical clinics with expanded hours that are equipped to diagnose and treat a broad spectrum of non-life and limb threatening illnesses and injuries—provide care to 30 to 50 patients each per day on average. They are a growing presence in the healthcare marketplace, with the number of urgent care centers increasing by
nearly 10 percent in the most recent year for which data is available. Their convenient locations, affordable costs, evening and weekend hours, and relatively short wait times make urgent care centers an appealing care site to consumers. Additionally, previous research suggests that urgent care centers could be an alternate setting for at least 13 percent of emergency department visits.4 A more recent study in Texas found a 60% overlap in the top 20 diagnoses between urgent care centers and emergency departments.5 These characteristics of urgent care centers suggest they could have a role in the delivery of care for low, and possibly moderate, acuity illnesses or injuries during a community-wide emergency or disaster. However, there is limited information available about the role that urgent care centers envision for themselves in such incidents.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange (TRACIE) interviewed 18 urgent care physicians and administrators associated with urgent care centers in 44 states to collect their perceptions on the role their urgent care centers could play in the nation’s healthcare preparedness and response activities. These urgent care leaders participated in one-on-one telephone interviews and shared their perspectives based on their current position in their center as well as their knowledge and experience in the urgent care industry generally.