A statement in a recent article from The Motley Fool attributes the rapid rise of urgent care clinics to failures by hospitals.
Long waits in emergency rooms for breaks, sprains, and the flu coupled with triple digit out-of-pocket invoices are making hospitals the care-of-last-resort.
The issue I take with this statement is that it leaves out the fact that the emergency room may not be the best place to treat breaks, sprains, and the flu in the first place. There is often a wide gap between a healthcare need that is urgent and one that is emergent.
Over the past several decades–driven in large part but the rise in the uninsured–emergency rooms became the primary treatment provider for all kinds of healthcare needs that were not, in fact, an emergency. Emergency rooms, by law, are required to treat almost any patient that presents at their door regardless of their ability to pay (this is a good thing) but have limited say in what patients actually show up requesting care.
Is the patient with the sprained wrist or suffering from flu-like symptoms experiencing a healthcare emergency? Most likely not, but many of them came to the emergency room anyway–often driving up the wait times mentioned in the article.
Urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, work-site clinics and the like are excellent avenues for patients with urgent–but not emergent–healthcare needs. Their rise in popularity (and the financial success that is following) should not be viewed as a failure of hospitals, but rather as a success of patients selecting the right provider for their current healthcare needs.