Trends in Where to Get Care

You have choices about where to get healthcare. It could be your doctor’s office, an urgent care center or a retail clinic. You could use telehealth. That gives care through electronic devices, like telephones, tablets and computers. FAIR Health has information on the latest trends in the places where people get care. We call that information FH Healthcare Indicators®. The Indicators are based on data in our database of private healthcare claims, the largest in the country. We published our research in a recent white paper. These are some of our top findings.

From 2016 to 2017, national usage of telehealth grew 53 percent. That was more than any other place of service we studied for how much people across the country used it. By contrast, usage of emergency rooms (ERs) dropped two percent from 2016 to 2017. That doesn’t mean more people are using telehealth than ERs. More people still use ERs. But growth from one year to the next was greater for telehealth than ERs.

Some other healthcare settings grew in how much they were used. But they didn’t grow as much as telehealth. Urgent care centers rose 14 percent in usage. They give care after normal working hours and treat many kinds of illnesses and injuries. Retail clinics also have convenient hours, but treat a more limited range of health problems. Retail clinics grew seven percent. Ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) provide same-day surgical care. They grew six percent.

Costs differ among the various places of service. In 2017, the median charge amount for a 30-minute new patient office visit was $207 in a provider’s office. That was the amount the provider charged to patients who weren’t insured. It was also the amount charged to patients whose health plan didn’t include the provider in their network. (“Median” means this charge was in the middle of all charges in our database for that service.) In an urgent care center, the same service cost more ($213). In a retail clinic, the same service cost $129. That was less than in either of the other settings.

What were the most common reasons people sought care at different places of service in 2017? For both retail clinics and urgent care centers, the most common diagnosis was acute respiratory infections. Those include colds and sinusitis. This was also the most common reason patients 23 and older went to an ER. But for patients 22 and younger in the ER, digestive system issues were number one. Those include stomach pain, nausea and vomiting,

In 2016, the top diagnosis for telehealth was mental health reasons. But in 2017, more people turned to telehealth for other reasons. Those included injury, acute respiratory infections, digestive system issues and general signs and symptoms. (General signs and symptoms include fever and headache.) All were ahead of mental health reasons in the list of reasons for using telehealth.

Males and Females
In 2017, women received more healthcare services than men in all adult age groups. That was true in all places of service where we looked for gender patterns. Those places were retail clinics, urgent care centers, telehealth, ASCs and ERs. But the findings differed for children. In all the settings we studied, boys 0-10 got more healthcare services than girls the same age. In ASCs, males also received more healthcare services than females in the age group 11-18.