The primary purpose of this paper is to analyze urgent care centers and explain their role within the U.S. healthcare system. The introduction of urgent care into the market for health care services has brought with it a new way for consumers to receive non-emergent healthcare outside of traditional hours. Urgent care is often cited as a plausible alternative to care received at an emergency department or primary care physician's office. One of the key questions the author attempts to answer is: "To what degree are urgent care centers an economic substitute to emergency departments or physician's offices?" This paper looks at both projected demand from currently operating urgent care centers and consumer preference surveys to estimate the willingness of consumers to use urgent care. The method used to accomplish this task has been compiling scholarly research and data on urgent care centers. After a thorough examination of relevant studies and datasets, urgent care centers have been found to be just as preferred as emergency departments when considering non-emergent cases, specifically among individuals aged 18-44. The clear majority of consumers still prefer visiting a primary care physician over an urgent care center when it comes to episodic care, however. When taking into account wait times, differences in cost, and ease of access, urgent care becomes much more preferred than an emergency department and weakly preferred to a physician's office. There are still some concerns with urgent care, however. Questions of capacity to meet demand, access for underserved communities, and susceptibility to adverse selection have yet to be fully explored.
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