Urgent Care Centers Have Saturated Some Urban Areas

Urgent care is a booming part of American health care, but the market may be saturated in several places.

Chicago, New York City, Phoenix, and Scottsdale, Ariz., are among the cities where the urgent care market is overbuilt, says Clifford Braff, managing director of the Braff Group, a Chicago brokerage company that represents sellers of urgent care centers and other health care service provider groups.

So now investors who might have eyed urgent care centers in urban centers and metropolitan areas are considering other parts of the country, Braff says. “Today, buyers are looking at rural and tertiary markets because they feel the market for urgent care centers is too competitive now.”

Too much competition can make it difficult for urgent care centers to be profitable, he explains. An urgent care center needs 25 to 30 patients a day to break even, he says. If markets are oversaturated, then a number of urgent care centers may close, at least in urban areas, Braff believes. At the same time, he says there is still plenty of demand for urgent care. With primary care in short supply and emergency departments very expensive, the urgent care center is an attractive alternative for many people, particularly if those centers have formed partnerships with hospitals, health systems, and physician groups, says Braff. “The lines between urgent care and primary care will kind of blur in the future,” he adds.

Already, about a third of urgent care patients have no primary care physician, according to Laurel Stoimenoff, CEO of the Urgent Care Association. When those patients need a referral to a continual source of care, the first place urgent care centers send them is to a primary care physician or a medical home, she says.

While hospitals and health systems were not among the early adopters, they’ve become eager to partner with urgent care centers. “The current buzz around having urgent care companies doing either affiliations or partnerships with health systems is at an all-time high,” says GoHealth Urgent Care’s CEO Todd Latz​. When his company opened its first urgent care center, competitors thought the model of working closely with health systems was one of the strange things about GoHealth Urgent Care​, says Latz​. Fearing the loss of patients to a competitor, hospital and health systems were wary. But in the past two to three years, hospital and health system administrators have seen that urgent care can help them retain patients within their networks and add to their revenues.

“Today, every one of our 135 locations around the country is in a deeply integrated joint venture partnership with a not-for-profit health system,” Latz​ says.

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