Health Insurers Betting on Urgent Care Centers

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media , September 28, 2012

UCCs are usually equipped with the latest healthcare technology including electronic medical records, electronic prescriptions and digital X-rays. They are typically open night and weekends,  when physician offices are usually closed.

Although UCCs often tout drop-in wait times of less than one hour, many centers are now offering online reservations.

Business is booming. The 9,000 UCCs in the U.S. receive an average 342 patient visits each week, or 3 million visits annually, according to the Chicago-based Urgent Care Association of America.

UCC costs are significantly less than an emergency department visit but can be comparable to a typical physician office visit. The NC Blues estimates that the average cost of an ED visit is $1,500 and about 20% of ED visits could be effectively treated at an urgent care center where the average cost per visit is $142. The insurer estimates that a 5% shift from ED use to urgent care centers could reduce medical spending by $8 million annually.

With its ownership position, BCBSNC can entice its members to use the FastMed facilities by offering lower copayments and lower in-network charges.


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