Posted by Allison Grant, March 24, 2020 (last updated on March 25, 2020)
A growing number of Americans have started relying on urgent care centers for convenient, affordable healthcare (so far, there are over 9,616 urgent care clinics in the country, and that number’s still growing). Now, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is putting urgent care on the front lines of defense as everyone tries to adapt to life during a pandemic. Clinics across the country are seeing a drastic increase in patients, especially ones who want to find out if they have the virus. Since this is the worst pandemic our country has seen, we wanted to break down exactly what role urgent care clinics have in the United State’s response to the outbreak.
How urgent care fits into the U.S. healthcare system
On a normal day, when the entire healthcare system isn’t focused on containing a worldwide pandemic, urgent care centers help patients who need fast, convenient care. They’re the go-to solution when you don’t want to (or can’t) wait for an appointment with your primary care doctor, and you definitely don’t want to pay the high price of a hospital visit for something that’s not an emergency.
The 8,000-plus urgent care centers in the U.S. are built on efficiency (without compromising quality)–they want to get you in and out with as little waiting as possible. On a typical day, each urgent care will see between 30 to 50 people. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc around the world, those numbers are climbing. As more people need treatment for COVID-19 symptoms (as well as the typical reasons people visit urgent care), they are turning to their local urgent care centers. In the words of Solv’s CEO, Heather Fernandez, "Urgent care centers are the frontline of healthcare, period.”
How urgent care is responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
When you think you have the flu and you want to get in and out of the doctor’s office (and back to bed) as quickly as possible, your first instinct may be to head to the urgent care. It makes sense that you’d have the same instinct when it comes to coronavirus–and the dramatic increase in urgent care visits lately tells us that you aren’t alone.
Urgent care centers are superstars at helping out with flu outbreaks, but things get a little trickier when it comes to the coronavirus. For example, during flu season each year, urgent care doctors wear protective masks (and put them on their flu patients) and treat people without any issues. However, with COVID-19, physicians are using respirators and other protective gear to protect themselves from becoming affected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Many urgent care clinics, especially those that are running short on protective gear, are ramping up their telemedicine services to increase the number of people they can safely treat each day. (We think this is an amazing step forward for healthcare, and we partnered with the Urgent Care Association (UCA) to make it even easier for urgent cares to use telemedicine services. So, if your local urgent care didn’t offer virtual visits before the outbreak, it’s worth another check!)
Right now, some urgent care centers–especially those that are part of a hospital health system–may have the tools they need to see people who have contracted the coronavirus. However, many don’t. If you go to urgent care to confirm whether or not you have COVID-19 and they can’t test you, they’ll direct you to a testing site. (If the urgent care doctor determines that you don’t need to be tested for the coronavirus, they may just recommend that you stay at home and rest.) By the way, if you think there’s a chance that you’re infected, you should definitely call ahead before visiting the doctor. Urgent care centers are now checking people for the virus in their cars to protect healthcare workers and other patients from the coronavirus.
As the state of the coronavirus outbreak changes rapidly, urgent care centers are monitoring every update from the CDC on best practices for treating patients with COVID-19 and protecting people who haven’t been infected from contracting it.
Urgent care centers help take the strain off of hospitals
Urgent care centers that are equipped to diagnose and care for people with COVID-19 take a lot of the weight off of overburdened hospitals. (A 2018 report from the UCA found that hospitals close to urgent care centers are 30% less crowded than those without nearby urgent cares seeing the majority of people that need non-emergency care.) They have a lot of the same equipment as hospitals and can provide a lot of the same care, such as giving x-rays, administering IV fluids, and stitching up wounds.
During this pandemic, your local urgent care is going to play a huge part in flattening the curve and keeping hospital beds free for people who need emergency care. We already know that the coronavirus is going to push the need for hospital beds way past capacity. Every person that goes to an urgent care–or, even better, uses telemedicine–for non-emergency care helps make sure hospitals have the resources they need to care for people who have truly life- or limb-threatening emergencies.
Healthcare providers everywhere, from urgent care to the ER, have the same goal: to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to effectively treat patients who do contract this virus. The healthcare system is stressed right now, but that doesn’t mean that you should go without care when you need it. Download the Solv app to find an urgent care or telemedicine appointment today.