The Urgent Care Association (UCA) recently updated its industry white paper, The Essential Role of the Urgent Care Center in Population Health, to provide a fresh outlook on the latest growth and trends, as well as data-driven predictions of how the industry will continue to evolve in 2020. The white paper offers healthcare decision makers a snapshot of the ever-changing, on-demand healthcare landscape.
"Our industry white paper provides trend information and insights related to the delivery of on-demand care," said Laurel Stoimenoff, PT, CHC, CEO of UCA and author of the white paper. "From antibiotic stewardship and patient access to care, to negotiations with payers and the regulatory climate - the white paper examines the industry's challenges and presents thoughts on future growth and advancement."
Updated Industry Statistics
In the white paper, the UCA projects continued growth in urgent care, driven by demand for high-quality, convenient services and a focus on the patient experience. In 2019, the UCA reports industry growth of almost 6%, with more than 9,272 urgent care centers in the United States as of June 2019, up from 8,774 in 2018 and 8,125 in 2017. In addition, other updated industry data includes:
- Urgent care centers handle more than 112 million patient visits per year,[i]representing 23% of all primary care visits and 12.6% of all outpatient physician visits[ii]
- Most emergency departments are overburdened, with more than 145 million patient visits in 2016, underscoring the importance of urgent care centers for non-emergent, on-demand care[iii]
Advocating Antibiotic Stewardship in Urgent Care
Antibiotic stewardship is a top priority in the industry, and UCA added extensive information on the topic in the white paper. To promote antibiotic stewardship and combat antimicrobial resistance, UCA and the College of Urgent Care Medicine produced an Antibiotic Stewardship Commitment signed by more than 600 urgent care centers. Organizations may also pursue a more extensive Antibiotic Stewardship Commendation through UCA by satisfying criteria aligned with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) four core elements of an antibiotic stewardship program.
"The Commendation program is exceeding expectations, as urgent care centers across the country demonstrate their commitment to responsible prescribing by developing and implementing industry-leading practices," said Stoimenoff.
The Push to Increase Access to Appropriate Care
The urgent care industry is growing and evolving, but questions and challenges surrounding patient access remain. The white paper discusses how the industry is addressing these concerns head-on.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a five-year pilot of the Emergency Triage, Treat and Transport (ET3) program to begin in 2020. The payment experiment will allow EMS providers to transport patients to alternative sites of care, including urgent care centers, rather than relying solely on emergency departments for non-emergency conditions.
In addition, the recently implemented V.A. Mission Act of 2018 ensures U.S. veterans covered through Veterans Affairs have access to eligible urgent care centers without prior authorization.
"The V.A. Mission Act not only creates greater access to care for our nation's veterans, but is also likely to mitigate inappropriate ED encounters across the country," said Stoimenoff.
Improving Collaboration with Payers
While urgent care use is on the rise, many patients are unable to take advantage of the convenient, affordable services due to restrictions with insurance providers. The white paper describes how narrowing provider networks can force urgent care centers to accept a limited number of insurers, while higher co-pays for urgent care services can hinder patients' access to care.
"Urgent care centers play an essential role in the delivery of primary and urgent care services," said Stoimenoff. "Creating disincentives to seeking care due to high copayments or deductibles delays timely care, which can ultimately impact outcomes and raise the cost of care."
To download a free copy of the UCA State of the Industry white paper, please visit https://www.ucaoa.org/WhitePaper.
[i] UCAOA 2018 Benchmarking Survey Report
[ii] The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2016 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS), National Center for Health Statistics, 2016
[iii] National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2016 Emergency Department Summary Tables, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2018