Columbia urgent care centers work to meet growing demand
COLUMBIA – The demand for fast, inexpensive medical care is growing as urgent care centers look to evolve services to best meet the community’s need.
The Urgent Care Association of America estimates an increase in roughly 4,000 new centers across the nation since 2009, with the total number of clinics exceeding 9,000.
Andrew Metza, Providence Urgent Care clinical manager, attributes the growth to a variety of services that anyone in the community can utilize.
“If you’ve never seen a primary care physician, urgent care centers can be there for you,” Metza said. “Little visits are never too small for urgent care. We cover the big stuff from x-rays all the way down to 'I need a Band-Aid.'”
Flu vaccinations, common cold diagnosis, x-rays, strep-throat and mono testing, drug screenings and minor cut treatment are among the most popular services that the average urgent care center provides.
Columbia centers all offer similar services but compete in terms of location.
“We’re placed in different key locations by these big communities so that people don’t have to drive that far,” Metza said. “Especially if it’s an in and out visit with a sick kid, nobody wants to be at the ER for three to four hours with a sick kid.”
The expansion of locations is a trend across the country, as the average American urgent care center receives approximately 357 patient visits per week. Providence Urgent Care locations make up three of Columbia’s 11 centers, and Metza estimates his centers provide treatment for 840 patients a week.
The number of visits every day keeps each center busy, but Metza said the key is to adapt hours and staff to keep providing treatment under 30 minutes.
“After hours we’re open. A lot of the clinics will close around 6:00, but we’re open untill 8:00 to serve the after hours market for the family that needs it,” Metza said. “We’ve gone out and hired more M.D.’s to help us since we’re open every day except pretty much Christmas or Thanksgiving.”
Private urgent care centers charge significantly less for treatment than emergency rooms. They also help take the load off crowded emergency rooms.
“One of the biggest goals is to actually help relieve the ER’s from the abundance flow they have,” Metza said. “They have a lot of patients that go there for flu-like symptoms or common colds, but they really don’t need to go there and crowd it up from those serious cases that really need their attention.”
The Urgent Care Association of America says nearly half of all visits to urgent care centers result in an average charge of less than $150, compared to the average cost of an ER visit at around $1,350.
As new families across the country start to use these services, the association projects more than $18 billion in revenue in 2017 with more than 12,000 clinics. Columbia could experience even more expansion in the future to keep wait times low.
Metza said he wants more people to know the benefits of using urgent care.
“We need to be spreading the word that these centers are here for people, because people don’t realize they can come into these urgent care centers and have an X-ray for a broken bone, versus waiting four or five hours,” Metza said.
Future expansion in Boone County could also range from added rural locations to private urgent care partnerships with hospital systems.
Of the 11 primary urgent care locations in Columbia, ten are open seven days a week for at least five hours. For serious conditions or injuries, emergency rooms at Boone Hospital Center and the University Hospital are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.