For minor illnesses and injuries, urgent care may provide quicker, more affordable alternative to emergency rooms

Humana KenMalcolmson1

Humana green logoBy Ken Malcolmson
Regional CEO of the Employer Group Business Segment, Humana’s West Region

When people are sick or injured – whether bogged down by the flu or dealing with a sprained ankle – the last thing they want to do is wait to get better. Not realizing that there are other options, however, many patients go straight to hospital emergency rooms (ER), where the average wait time is nearly an hour and average visit time is more than four hours. [i]

Wait times are likely to get worse, due to about seven percent of ERs nationwide being forced to close in the past 10 years and about 90 percent of the rooms either at or over capacity.[ii]  ER visits have increased by 32 percent over the past decade, according to statistics from the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA).[iii] And, the number of people seeking care will only increase due to an influx in individuals expected to enter the health care system over the next few years.

Depending on the health condition and situation, patients should consider going to one of the many urgent care centers located in San Antonio, which are often faster, less expensive and more accessible, while providing personalized care.

At urgent care centers, which increased in number nationwide by more than 16 percent from 2008 to 2012, wait times are usually less than 20 minutes, no appointments are necessary and parking is convenient. [iv], [v] Most offer extended weekend and evening hours and some, like Humana’s Concentra, can connect with a patient’s primary physician to share information about the visit and create a greater continuum of care.

Going to the ER – or calling 911 – is the right course of action for life-threatening situations where patients exhibit severe symptoms or have a serious injury or illnesses, including head trauma, chest pain, loss of consciousness and severe burns. However, research shows up to half of ER visits usually don’t require an ER.[vi] Fortunately, urgent care centers provide quality service for common injuries and illnesses, such as ear infections, strep throat, cuts requiring stitches, minor burns and most other non-life-threatening problems. Additionally, urgent care centers are increasingly offering diagnostic testing and flu immunizations.

Urgent care centers, which accept most insurance, Medicare and cash payments, can also provide a considerable service to patients’ wallets. The cost for medical care at these centers is, on average, six times less than receiving the same care at an ER, according to the UCAOA.[vii] Insured patients often have lower co-pays and out-of-pocket costs, and non-insured patients who choose urgent care over ERs can also see about 80 percent in cost savings. For example, treatment for an ear infection typically costs about $60 at an urgent care facility, while the same service costs about $320 at an ER.

In all, San Antonio residents are encouraged to visit urgent care centers for timely and affordable care. Anybody interested in guidelines on when it is best to go to an urgent care center and when an emergency room is recommended can visit Understanding the differences will help you make the right decision for you and your family.

Ken Malcolmson is the chief executive officer of Humana’s West Region, where he is responsible for the overall management and strategic planning for the company’s Employer Group benefit products in a 14-state region.

[i]  CDC: Wait Time for Treatment in Hospital Emergency Departments –

[ii]  American College of Emergency Physicians –

[iii]  Urgent Care Association of America –

[iv]  Kaiser Health News –

[vii]  Urgent Care Association of America – 2010 Urgent Care Benchmarking Survey Results (no link available)