Colds, broken bones, cuts and back pain are creating a need in health care. Urgent care centers seem to be just what the doctor ordered to fill the gap between crowded emergency rooms and a lack of primary care doctors.
The Urgent Care Association of America estimates three million patients visit these centers each week. It's a trend that's coming to the Lehigh Valley.
"In the Lehigh Valley you're seeing a lot of Urgent Cares pop up," said Jeff Kowalski with St. Luke's University Hospital.
"Easily accessible quick care we think is the secret," president of St. Luke's Allentown Campus Frank Ford shared.
And he seems to be right. During the past two years, the number of new urgent care centers opening has doubled, with about 9,000 nationwide in 2012 according to the Urgent Care Association of America.
"You can avoid the wait in the emergency rooms and the co-pays are lower," added Kowalski. "So it enables the patient to get quality care at a lower price."
Patients can go to walk-in clinics without an appointment, wait times are typically shorter, and extended evening and weekend hours are common.
"It is something that we're seeing across the country," explained Kowalski. "It's something I think with heath care reform you might see more of."
Urgent care centers generally treat conditions that are not life threatening emergencies, but require attention within 24 hours. Some are concerned the surge in urgent care could lead to fewer people having a regular physician.