As emergency room visits in the United States have ticked steadily upward, reaching 119.2 million annually, waiting for treatment has become a central feature of emergency-department care.
According to a Los Angeles Times article, these lengthy wait times have given rise to increased use of urgent care centers. Patients spend an average of 3.3 hours to be seen, treated and discharged, according to a 2006 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Arizona, where hospital emergency rooms are most crowded, patients wait just less than five hours on average for care in an ER.
A growing number of people appear to be voting with their feet. Those walk-in patients are fueling the growth of a kind of healthcare provider now making a comeback -- the urgent care center -- and at some hospitals, a flurry of efforts to improve the ER experience.
The Urgent Care Assn. of America, a trade organization that did not exist until 2004, last year counted a total of 8,000 urgent care centers around the country. For patients with illness or injury that is not life-threatening but can't wait for an appointment with a primary care doctor, these hybrids are a growing alternative to hospital emergency departments.