Sep 7, 2010
Published in: Health Affairs, vol. 29, no. 9, Sep. 2010, p. 1630-1636
Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2009
Americans seek a large amount of nonemergency care in emergency departments, where they often encounter long waits to be seen. Urgent care centers and retail clinics have emerged as alternatives to the emergency department for nonemergency care. We estimate that 13.7-27.1 percent of all emergency department visits could take place at one of these alternative sites, with a potential cost savings of approximately $4.4 billion annually. The primary conditions that could be treated at these sites include minor acute illnesses, strains, and fractures. There is some evidence that patients can safely direct themselves to these alternative sites. However, more research is needed to ensure that care of equivalent quality is provided at urgent care centers and retail clinics compared to emergency departments.