Background: Due to long waits for primary care appointments and extended emergency department wait times, newer sites for episodic primary care services, such as urgent care centers, have developed. However, little is known about these centers. The purpose of this study is to provide information about the organization and functioning of urgent care centers based on a nationally representative U.S. sample.
Methods: We conducted a mail survey with telephone follow-up of urgent care centers identified via health insurers' websites, internet searches, and a trade association mailing list. Descriptive statistics are presented.
Results: Urgent care centers are open beyond typical office hours, and their scope of services is broader than that of many primary care offices. While these characteristics are similar to hospital emergency departments, such centers employ significant numbers of family physicians. The payer distribution is similar to that of primary care, and physicians' average salaries are comparable to those for family physicians overall. Urgent care centers report early adoption of electronic health records, though our findings are qualified by a lack of strictly comparable data.
Conclusion: While their hours and scope of services reflect some characteristics of emergency departments, urgent care centers are in many ways similar to family medicine practices. As the health care system evolves to cope with expanding demands in the face of limited resources, it is unclear how patients with episodic care needs will be treated, and what role urgent care centers will play in their care.