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Ear to the Ground

Investors Smell Money in Urgent Care

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Posted on Jul 10, 2014

Photo by JoeInSouthernCA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Valued at an estimated $14.5 billion, urgent care walk-in clinics represent one of the fastest-growing segments of American health care. And Wall Street investors have noticed.

The New York Times reports:

[...] what is happening here is also playing out across the nation, as private equity investment firms, sensing opportunity, invest billions in urgent care and related businesses. Since 2008, these investors have sunk $2.3 billion into urgent care clinics. Commercial insurance companies, regional health systems and local hospitals are also looking to buy urgent care practices or form business relationships with them.

The business model is simple: Treat many patients as quickly as possible. Urgent care is a low-margin, high-volume proposition. At PhysicianOne here, most people are in and out in about 30 minutes. The national average charge runs about $155 per patient visit. Do 30 or 35 exams a day, and the money starts to add up.

Urgent care clinics also have a crucial business advantage over traditional hospital emergency rooms in that they can cherry-pick patients. Most of these centers do not accept Medicaid and turn away the uninsured unless they pay upfront. Hospital E.R.s, by contrast, are legally obligated to treat everyone.

But as urgent care centers expand their reach, regulators in some states are scrutinizing their activities. While some states require the clinics to be licensed, most do not. It is unclear whether such urgent care centers offer better or worse care than other providers. But some family physicians — who stand to lose business to the newcomers — wonder if patients are trading quality for convenience.

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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