The number of urgent care centers in Massachusetts rocketed up by more than 700 percent from 2010 to 2017, while the number of retail clinics nearly tripled, according to a new report. There were 18 urgent care centers and 20 retail clinics in 2010, compared to 145 urgent care centers at the end of 2017 and 57 retail clinics in 2018, according to data released Thursday by the state's Health Policy Commission.
"Urgent care centers and retail clinics have the potential to increase timely and convenient access to low-cost, high-quality care for patients in the Commonwealth, including by reducing avoidable [emergency department] visits," HPC executive director David Seltz said. "However, there is still much more to understand about the market dynamics driving the staggering growth in these sites, their role in enhancing access for underserved populations, and how they participate in care coordination efforts across the broader health care system."
Most urgent care centers and retail clinics are located in higher income areas, according to the analysis, which said the "most notable" increases in the alternative care sites took place in the Springfield and Worcester areas, as well as the areas outside of Boston.
The South Shore and the Norwood/Attleboro area had more than six times as many urgent care centers and retail clinics as they did emergency departments, while the upper North Shore and the Berkshires had a roughly equivalent number of alternative care sites and emergency departments, according to the HPC. The report said sore throats were the top condition that prompted an urgent care center visit, and sore throats and acute sinusitis accounted for 30 percent of the conditions seen by retail clinics.