Urgent care centers, the walk-in clinics where people can go when they have a cold or a sprained ankle, have been popping up in strip malls and on street corners across the country.
MedExpress Urgent Care, the dominant clinic operator in Western Pennsylvania, and its competitors are tapping demand from patients who see these services as cheaper and more convenient than a visit to the hospital emergency room.
The growth in urgent care centers is expected to continue as millions of Americans gain health insurance for the first time next year under the Affordable Care Act and seek medical care.
Urgent care centers cater to patients with minor illnesses and injuries. They're not meant to replace emergency rooms or doctors' offices, but are typically less expensive and more convenient. Unlike a doctor's office, they don't require appointments.