The Doctor Will See You Right Now: Understanding Urgent Care Centers

September 14, 2016 | By Lawrence J. Tabas

In today’s busy world, convenience is a prized commodity. From pre-ordering and paying online for your favorite Starbucks drink to pulling up instantaneous directions on Google Maps, people value solutions that save time and make their lives easier. This trend carries over into the health care industry; most notably in the increasing popularity of urgent care centers. Since health insurance companies, like Independence Blue Cross, began to cover the health care provided at these clinics, their popularity and prevalence has skyrocketed.

Urgent care centers are modeled to facilitate quality, affordable, and convenient medical care for non-life threatening injuries and illnesses. Urgent care centers generally allow for walk-in appointments, which spares patients the time required to schedule an appointment with a primary care physician and to wait for the appointment time and date. Moreover, urgent care centers tend to have flexible hours. They may be open on weekends or evenings, and may be more convenient for someone juggling a busy schedule. In addition, many urgent care centers have x-rays or laboratory testing, but are generally less expensive than a hospital emergency room.

Where do these urgent care centers exist? Pretty soon, they will be everywhere. A recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal chronicled the recent proliferation of urgent care centers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Although care centers traditionally targeted the suburbs, more and more urgent care centers are popping up in cities and other densely populated areas. As explained by Peter Hotz, CEO of Philadelphia Urgent Care Management, in a recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, there is a “big opportunity for urgent care centers in the city . . . in the city there are still many neighborhoods where there is a large need for accessible and affordable care.”

However, these urgent care centers cannot be opened on a mere whim. For one, opening an urgent care center entails a huge amount of capital to cover startup costs, including equipment, hiring staff, and transforming real estate into a medical office. The Philadelphia Business Journal reported that it can take up to nine months for an urgent care center to break even. In addition, there are several legal and regulatory issues that must be considered before an urgent care center may be opened.

For example, the structure of an urgent care center must not violate the corporate practice of medicine doctrine. The corporate practice of medicine doctrine prohibits a physician from practicing medicine as the employee of an unlicensed person or a corporation. The corporate practice of medicine doctrine is intended to protect the integrity of the medical profession, and prevent profit-motivated corporations and non-physicians from exerting excessive control over their physician-employees. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey prohibit the corporate practice of medicine. Delaware, however, does not.

In addition, there may be licensure issues associated with opening an urgent care center. Because the proliferation of urgent care centers is a relatively new phenomenon, some states have not yet passed laws specific to urgent care centers and their required licensure. As a result, state laws regarding urgent care licensure vary. An individual interested in opening an urgent care center should consult an attorney in his or her state. In addition, an urgent care center may require additional permits or certifications, depending upon the services that it offers. For example, Pennsylvania requires that clinical laboratories obtain both a CLIA certification and a Pennsylvania Clinical Laboratory Permit in order to perform patient testing.

If you have any questions about urgent care centers or the requirements to open an urgent care center, contact the Health Law Gurus.

About the Authors

Lawrence J. Tabas


Lawrence is the Chair for Obermayer’s Health Care Law Department and Election Law Practice Group. Lawrence’s Health Care Law legal experience includes the representation of Pennsylvania County governments in Behavioral Health Managed...

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