Once the domain of retired physicians and entrepreneurs, the growth of urgent care centers—a market that reached nearly $14 billion in 2013—is projected to increase over the next five years, driven by hospitals seeking to relieve crowded and costly ERs and to recoup lost revenues.

That is the finding of a new report from medical market research firm Kalorama Information, which estimates that there are currently 9,400 urgent care centers in the United States—a trend that will continue to grow as urgent care centers increase patient flow and offer more services.

“In 2014, the urgent care center business could be said to have grown up,” said Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information. “Where once the market consisted of single centers owned by individuals like entrepreneurs or retired physicians, today’s urgent care center is likely to be part of a chain or hospital and part of a well-thought out strategy.”

The report also concludes that these centers are “well-utilized and once patients go, they return.” According to Kalorama Information, 70 percent of urgent care center visitors surveyed indicate that they went to a UCC more than once in the past year.

At the same time, the research firm warns that it’s not uncommon to “see two or three centers opening up nearby each other, competing for the same population” which is allowing consumers to “shop for services” creating competition in locations where some centers “won’t be able to survive.”

The key to the survival of urgent care centers are high-traffic locations and a population of underserved patients, advises Kalorama Information, According to the firm, a successful center needs a minimum of 8,000 patient visits per year to survive and 14,000 to make nationwide averages. “That may require a surrounding population of 50,000, and there’s only so many such areas,” states the report. “As clinics grow, the choice areas with this population underserved will diminish.”          

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