Urgent Care Centers Can Address Gaps in Access to Primary Care According to New Research from UnitedHealth Group

June 25, 2020 | 3 min Read
  • If results in West Virginia are replicated nationwide, more than 10 million children could benefit from much-needed well visits

New research from UnitedHealth Group has shown that urgent care centers can serve up to 10 million American children who currently have limited access to well-child visits. These visits play an important role in providing children and their parents the services, screenings and referrals they need to live healthier lives.

The findings are based on work in West Virginia where MedExpress urgent care facilities partnered with Medicaid managed care plans to deliver more than 7,000 well-child visits, including 5,000 for children living in rural areas. MedExpress is also partnering with Medicaid programs and managed care plans to deliver well-child visits in Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

Similar partnerships throughout the country between urgent care centers, health plans and state Medicaid programs could help children in low-income families receive timely preventive services. The need for such partnerships with Medicaid programs is only likely to increase due to the economic and health consequences of COVID-19.

“Millions of children living in low-income areas have difficulty accessing well-child visits each year, but it does not have to be this way. Urgent care centers can provide well-child visits for millions of children enrolled in Medicaid who may not have access to a regular primary care provider,” said Dean Hatcher, president of MedExpress. “Well-child visits for children are among the most cost-effective health care services we can deliver.”

Well-child visits are a critically important element of high-quality primary care for children and typically include a physical exam, screenings, immunizations and cognitive and behavioral assessments. In situations where urgent care centers are not able to provide all recommended services, urgent care providers can offer referrals and recommendations for additional care.

Access to office-based primary care physicians remains a challenge for children enrolled in Medicaid, especially those living in medically underserved areas and rural communities, many of whom do not have a regular primary care provider. Medicaid is particularly important to children of color, who are disproportionately represented among the program’s beneficiaries, according to one study.

According to UnitedHealth Group research, nearly 4 million gaps in care each year would be closed if urgent care centers delivered one well-child visit per urgent care center per day. An average of three well-child visits per urgent care center per day would close 10 million gaps in care each year nationwide – including 2 million in rural areas.

Over 10,000 urgent care centers across the U.S. provide about 30% of the nation’s primary care, accounting for 90 million patient visits each year. Located in convenient retail settings, open evenings and weekends and offering walk-in visits on demand with short wait times, urgent care centers are well positioned to serve families whose children lack a regular primary care provider.

Read the full report here.

About UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) is a diversified health care company dedicated to helping people live healthier lives and helping to make the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealth Group offers a broad spectrum of products and services through two distinct platforms: UnitedHealthcare, which provides health care coverage and benefits services; and Optum, which provides information and technology-enabled health services. For more information, visit UnitedHealth Group at or follow @UnitedHealthGrp on Twitter.