Urgent care centers seeing increased demand for services, forcing fast expansion
Urgent care facilities are in high demand- and local health care providers say that has forced them to expand quickly.
According to the Urgent Care Association, between 2013 and 2018, the number of urgent care facilities nationwide has gone up from 6,100 to 8,774 as of November 2018.
For some area urgent care centers, they say those numbers reflect the trend in eastern Iowa, too: more people are taking advantage of urgent care centers rather than making trips to the emergency room. And that fast growth has led them to grow, too.
"It's convenient, it's quick, [and] you can be in and out very quickly," said Dr. Shivendra Bahadur of Mercy Iowa City.
Dr. Bahadur has been at Mercy's Urgent Care center in Iowa City almost since the clinic opened. He says in his time at the facility, the trend has been very clear.
"It's become more and more busy at urgent care, we've actually extended our hours a bit too," Dr. Bahadur said.
Studies from JAMA Internal Medicine show visits to urgent care facilities increased by 140-percent in less than ten years, between 2008 and 2015. Dr. Bahadur says that increase is due to the fact that oftentimes urgent care is faster than a trip to the emergency room.
"The convenience is the biggest factor," Dr. Bahadur said. "And sometimes insurances cover it a lot better, too. It's almost covered like a primary care visit."
With more people looking for urgent care, more facilities are opening, too- like the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics urgent care center on the east side of Iowa City that opened in July 2018.
"Our volumes have steadily increased since we opened in July," said Dr. Katie Imborek, who oversees the urgent care center for UIHC. "Right now we're seeing somewhere between 35 to sometimes 60 patients per day."
With that influx of people needing medical attention, both health care providers are trying to meet that demand.
"You do have the ability to schedule online," Dr. Imborek said. "So you can go through our open scheduling, and you can look at our open available schedule spots to have a spot in line." That online scheduling system can be seen
"Mercy has the Mercy On Call," Dr. Bahadur explained. "So they can somewhat guide the patient where to go get better treatment or better results." You can get more information on that program
So as the number of patients has gone up, so too has the need for places to serve them.
"This urgent care option for the community has really taken off," Dr. Imborek said.
Staff with Mercy say they have also had to increase staff in addition to longer hours at the clinic. Over at UIHC, it is preparing to open another urgent care facility in January.
Urgent care facilities do not include features like UI QuickCare. Dr. Imborek said the difference is QuickCare is targeted more towards simpler issues like a sore throat, ear pain, and other issues. Urgent care can address more complex issues, offering services like IV fluids and x-rays.