Courtesy of www.Forbes.com. Original aricle can be viewed here.
The number of urgent care centers in the U.S. has surpassed 9,200 as hospital systems and well-capitalized companies like UnitedHealth Group’s Optum unit open urgent care centers across the country.
The number of U.S. urgent care centers rose 6% to 9,272 in the U.S. as of June of this year compared to 8,774 in 2018, according to the latest tally by the Urgent Care Association, which released a new report on the industry’s rapid growth.
Unlike the early proliferation of urgent care centers that were largely opened by physicians, doctor practices and medical groups, the new wave is driven by well-capitalized health systems and investor-owned companies like UnitedHealth Group’s Optum health services unit and big hospital corporations, the report indicates.
Urgent care is similar to retail health clinics operated by Walgreens, CVS and Walmart in that they are open daily, evenings and on weekends to treat routine health needs. But urgent care centers also generally offer more in the form of a board-certified physician plus additional services such as X-rays for potential broken bones.
“The urgent care industry’s ownership mix has shifted significantly since inception,” the urgent care group’s report said. “Urgent care centers emerged largely as a physician or physician group strategy.”
But physician ownership that once accounted for 54% of the U.S. market in 2008 has now dropped to 40% or less. By comparison, hospital ownership had jumped to 37% in 2014 compared to just shy of 25% in 2008.
“Healthcare systems such as Dignity Health, HCA, Aurora Health, Intermountain Health and Carolinas Healthcare have all made significant commitments to urgent care in their communities and beyond,” the Urgent Care Center report said. “Urgent care aligns with many healthcare systems’ objectives of providing cost effective, accessible care, particularly when integrated with other ancillary, specialty and primary care strategies.”
Meanwhile, many urgent care developers and health systems have taken on “private equity partners to fuel ongoing growth and the payer community has entered the market with ownership in the urgent care sector,” the report said. The biggest payer being UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurer and its Optum medical care services unit, which bought MedExpress in 2015 and continues to open urgent care centers across the country.
Optum said its MedExpress urgent care center growth us up 70% to more than 250 centers over the last five years, a company spokesman confirmed.
In Optum’s case, the urgent care centers are being linked with the company’s other medical care provider operations into what executives hope will be a more seamless experience for patients.
Andrew Witty, the president of UnitedHealth Group and CEO of Optum said last week at the 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit that the hundreds of clinics, surgery centers and urgent care assets the company has acquired will increasingly be “wired together” in markets across the U.S. The company has identified 10 markets where that process is underway including Denver, Seattle, Southern California, Las Vegas, Dallas and the New York and New Jersey metropolitan market.