Urgent care centers cost more than you think

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The number of urgent care centers grew significantly in the last decade, thanks in part by private equity investments. They seek to lower health costs and be cheaper than the ER by conveniently providing on-demand care for easily treatable conditions.

But, when looking at the economics, urgent care clinics may increase net health care spending.

In a new research article published in the April 2021 edition of Health Affairs, Dr. Ari Friedman, assistant professor of emergency medicine, medical ethics, and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues studied the impact on urgent care centers on emergency department (ED) visits.

Their research found that although the entry of urgent care deterred lower-acuity ED visits, the impact was small. They estimate that 37 additional urgent care visits were associated with a reduction of a single lower-acuity ED visit. In addition, each $1,600 lower-acuity emergency department visit prevented was offset by a $6,000 increase in urgent care center costs.
On this episode of A Health Podyssey, Ari Friedman joins Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil to discuss his research on the cost of urgent care centers and what it might tell us about patient utilization patterns.

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