Consumers who are looking to avoid long emergency room waits along with more convenient evening and weekend hours are driving the growth of many urgent care centers — referred to by some as “doc-in-a-box” locations according to a recent report by the Washington Post.

The Urgent Care Association of America cites that an estimated 3 million patients visit these centers each week. The number of facilities have increased from 8,300 to 9,300 since 2008 – sending a clear signal that business is booming in the perceived urgent care gold rush.

“I have a doctor, and my kids’ pediatricians are great, but we’d prefer not to have the long wait in the office. So we come here and everything seems so much faster,” a 36-year-old patient told the Washington Post, after having a doctor remove the stitches he had put in her foot after a weekend boating accident.

But some physicians groups have voiced their concerns that “overreliance on the centers can complicate efforts to improve health through better coordination of care”.

“Family doctors take a more holistic view of a person,” said Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “If a teenager comes in with lacerations, for instance, a family doctor might broach the subject of alcohol or drug use. Similarly, a series of seemingly minor illnesses might indicate a larger, less obvious problem.”

With the lower costs of urgent care drawing attention from insurers, many have added urgent care centers to their provider networks, citing a study that found “almost one in five visits to hospital emergency rooms could be treated at urgent care centers, potentially saving $4.4 billion annually in health-care costs.”

Ultimately, convenient access and saving time are major selling points for patients — with approximately 80% of all urgent care visits being 60 minutes or less.

Read the entire Washington Post article.

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