The healthcare industry has responded positively to the changing needs and requirements of fast paced Americans. Urgent care centers, while having been around for several years, have recently increased in popularity and emerged as the perfect solution for our current lifestyles. These walk in clinics operate beyond normal business hours and work to efficiently deal with almost all types of injuries and illnesses with the exception being life threatening medical issues. They provide what is known as ambulatory care in an environment outside of a normal medical center, such as a hospital emergency room or primary care office. Yet in spite of the potential for overlap given their common treatment of acute ailments, injuries and diseases, urgent care centers supplement emergency rooms and primary care offices in the healthcare system, rather than replace them.
In the absence of urgent care centers, emergency rooms would be significantly over crowded and their very purpose of treating and saving lives would become impossible. The Urgent Care Association of America, which is a trade association in the United States for providers of urgent care, rightly distinguishes urgent care as care used to treat injury or illness on a walk-in basis, but not serious enough to warrant emergency room visit. In that sense, the emergence of urgent care centers in the American healthcare system has been a natural and logical progression as they play an important role in fulfilling the gap between emergency rooms and a primary health care unit. By filling this niche, they relieve much of the burden on more traditional sources of ambulatory care. Emergency rooms are equipped with highly specialized and highly trained staff and modern medical technology in order to treat medical emergencies. Yet, as they are often used as a method to receive treatment for less serious issues, resources that should be used for life-threatening situations are not being used efficiently.
As for primary care doctors, while they also specialize in the sort of non-life-threatening issues as urgent care centers, they typically have a roster of patients that is quite full, leading to long lead times in order to get an appointment for care. In addition, these offices offer limited hours that don’t extend much beyond normal business hours. This can make it even more difficult for a patient to find the time necessary to receive the care they need. While conditions that require long term care and follow-up should be handled by a primary care physician who can track a patient’s progress, urgent care centers offer an alternative for those times where patients have a shorter term issue that they’d like addressed quickly. This is especially true when a patient is traveling or wants to seek care in the evening or on a weekend. After their visit, an urgent care center can even coordinate with their regular doctor to ensure that the appropriate records are transferred and follow-ups take place as necessary.
If we consider all of the important health services like hospital emergency rooms, primary health care units and urgent care centers, and their medical specialties, it becomes truly apparent that they are working in tandem to provide patients with a seamless healthcare experience. In today’s healthcare environment, no single service in isolation can provide a comprehensive solution for all patients. Therefore, each of these services has evolved to fulfill a unique niche in the hierarchy of the healthcare system. With that prospective, urgent care centers should not be seen as competitors of emergency rooms or primary care doctors, but rather as a complementary and supplementary piece that strengthens the whole healthcare system.