April 5 (UPI) — Urgent-care centers have increased healthcare costs, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine said in a report released Monday.
Only one of 37 visits to urgent-care centers studied save a patient from visiting a hospital emergency department.
Researchers analyzed the records of 22 millions patients over a 12-year period. They reported the opening of urgent-care centers did reduce the number of hospital emergency visits, but costs increased.
While previous research suggested urgent-care centers reduce costs, Dr. Ari Friedman, senior author and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the university, said his group determined costs have increased overall.
“Our findings confirm ED visits go down, but then show that total costs across both settings actually go up, not down,” Friedman said.
The goal of routing lower-risk visits from emergency departments has increased the number of visits to the urgent-care centers disproportionately, their findings show.
While costs are rising, researchers said outcomes were improving, but not in pace.
Friedman suggested evaluating new healthcare options like urgent-care centers in the same way the Food and Drug Administration does for the pharmaceutical industry, aiming to provide the most value to the patient.
According to the American Journal of Managed Care, visits to urgent-care centers increased 47 percent from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, costs at urgent-care centers were the highest of all other visits to healthcare professionals.
Authors of the Pennsylvania study suggest telemedicine and primary healthcare, in combination with urgent-care centers, could provide a balance and reduce costs.
These findings are backed up by other recent research conducted at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.