50 Shades of Healthcare Grey The Role of Urgent Care Centers in the American Healthcare System

50 Shades of Healthcare Grey The Role of Urgent Care Centers in the American Healthcare System

Health and Fitness May 22, 2015

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Grey areas existing in some many different circumstances in life, and the American healthcare system is no different. What role do urgent care clinics really play in the United States, and what role will they play in the future?

Though the urgent care movement began nearly 40 years ago during the 1970’s, it has only recently begun to gain traction and make waves within the last decade or so. During this time, urgent care facilities went from being disregarded as “doc-in-a-box” offices to being thrust to the forefront of the American healthcare industry. Urgent care clinics are now considered leaders in health care.

But what is urgent care? This is where the grey area comes into play. While urgent care services are intended to evaluate and treat acutely arising medical conditions such as colds, the flu, stomach bugs, urinary tract infections, and other minor ailments, it’s now common for many urgent care clinics to also provide services that border on emergency care.

For example, many urgent care centers are equipped with x-ray and sonogram capability, lab services, and many even have onsite prescription dispensaries. In addition, the majority of urgent care centers now treat ailments such as broken bones, cuts, scrapes, burns, and even concussions — all of which can also be treated at a hospital emergency room at a much higher cost.

The affordability and convenience of urgent care has caused confusion in that some patients who may actually be in need of emergency medical treatment choose to first seek treatment at an urgent care center. More often than not, these centers are not properly equipped to provide emergency medical care and the patient must be triaged to an emergency department.

While this may seem like a harmless or innocent mistake on the patient’s part, time is of the essence in terms of true medical emergencies and can be the difference between life and death.