The increase in urgent care visits across the U.S. shows no signs of slowing down—and that seems directly correlated to a decline in emergency room visits, according to an article just published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Informed by data from Aetna, the article notes that urgent care visits by commercially insured Americans grew 119% between 2008 and 2015, at the same time ED visits for low-severity conditions shrunk by 36%. Lead author Sabrina Poon, MD says the hallmark attributes of urgent care—convenience, lower cost, and shorter wait times compared to the ED and other settings—are the most likely reasons for the ongoing surge. The data reflect some 20.6 million acute care visits by Aetna commercial plan members younger than 65 years of age. In the final year of the study period (2015), there were 103 visits to urgent care centers per 1,000 Aetna members under 65 (up from 47 in 2008), vs 57 visits to the ED for every 1,000 members (down from 89 in 2008). The study also revealed that while use of telemedicine and retail clinics for minor issues is also increasing, those settings still make up a relatively small portion of the market (six telehealth virtual visits and 22 to retail clinics per 1,000 plan members). Overall use of acute care facilities rose 31% during the study period, while healthcare spending per person per year went up 14%.
New Data Show More Patients Are Choosing Urgent Care Over the ED