Urgent Care Industry Hits $18 Billion As Big Players Drive Growth
As some of the biggest names in healthcare including Walgreens Boots Alliance and UnitedHealth Group open more urgent care centers, growth is projected to reach nearly 6% in 2018, new reports and companies say.
“ The $18 billion industry is expected to grow 5.8% in 2018 , offering services beyond a typical primary care office,” the Urgent Care Association of America said in a new report on the industry's facility and revenue growth, citing the move toward population health and value-based payment of medical care providers.
But there's even faster growth among larger companies, according to a separate report by Merchant Medicine. Among top “independent operators” growth last year was 11% as 1,688 centers opened in 2017 compared to 1,514 at the end of 2016. “The growth standouts were MedExpress, CityMD, GoHealth, Fast Pace, Premier, Urgent Team, MDNow and CRH,” Merchant Medicine CEO Tom Charland, who closely follows and consults with the retail healthcare industry, wrote in his January report.
MedExpress, which is owned by UnitedHealth Group’s Optum health services unit, opened 46 urgent care facilities last year. MedExpress grew by 23% to 244, Merchant Medicine's latest tally shows.
By any measure, urgent care is becoming an increasingly popular form of healthcare delivery with even more players expected to enter the business.
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.
There were 7,639 urgent care centers in the U.S. , according to the Urgent Care Association of America, citing figures as of June 2017. That’s an increase of nearly 6% from 7,271 in 2016 and 6,946 in 2015.
This growth is expected to continue as new partnerships and players emerge in the urgent care space.
Walgreens has partnered with UnitedHealth Group’s MedExpress to open more urgent care centers adjacent to Walgreens drugstores. The pilot project between Walgreens and MedExpress currently has grown to 15 urgent care locations in six states. There is also speculation that CVS Health will enter the urgent care business once its acquisition of Aetna, the nation’s third largest health insurer, is completed later this year.
The health insurers see urgent care as yet another way keep patients healthy and out of the more expensive inpatient hospital setting. Such a value-based approach to medicine is increasingly replacing the fee-for-service model that emphasizes volume of medical care delivered.
“As urgent care becomes more integrated into mainstream healthcare delivery and technology in 2018, patients and providers will enjoy enhanced coordination of care and improved outcomes,” Urgent Care Association of America past president Dr. Nate Newman said in a statement accompanying a report he wrote on “patient-centric" healthcare. ”Our industry data underscores the integral role current and future urgent care providers across the country play in the proliferation of value-based care and same-day access to acute primary care services.”
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