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INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES: Rural America – A New Frontier for Urgent Care Expansion

Posted: Mar 13, 2019
Comments: 0
Author: UCA Admin

By Jim Garrett, Vice President,  National UC Realty

As the urgent care industry continues to grow via new entries to the market and expansions of existing operators, green-space on the map is slowly being replaced by icons representing retail medical providers (see map overview below showing example 5-year aerial change).  Like a Starbucks on each corner in Manhattan, some communities in America are observing aggressive urgent care posturing with operators electing to position themselves less than 100 yards from a competitive provider.  While there may be merit in a group’s ability to out-position, out-perform, and out-last a nearby competitor, and there are also instances where market demand is such that two nearby competitors may co-exist in harmony, extensive growth in this industry has caused many to ask: “Where should I go next?”


Urgent Care Map Cir. 2014                                                                                 



Urgent Care Map Cir. 2019


*  Example Map based on NUCR DB, to be used for example/illustration only


Urban and suburban communities have been the first and easiest target for medical providers for a myriad of reasons, some including: elevated population density which helps support clinic volumes, presence of universities and health-systems which fuel employment and staffing opportunities, and the idea that nearly 80% of the U.S. population resides in an urban or suburban setting (1) .  Urban Sprawl, the expansion of urban/suburban areas into peripheral communities (2), has also allowed many urgent care providers to open new facilities in emerging markets while maintaining proximity to larger/established metroplexes.  None of this is to suggest that these markets no longer contain viable urgent care opportunities, however, it is intended to highlight that while many physicians and urgent cares have been prioritizing more densely populated areas, the remaining 20% of Americans residing in rural zones have been largely overlooked.


 Example Market (West Houston) Cir. 2000                                                                     



Example Market (West Houston) Cir. 2018                 

*  Example Map intended to show urban-sprawl and population growth


While rural markets contain varying population densities and heterogenous compositions, lack of traditional medical services, reduced access to care, and increased commute distances have forced many patients to seek care for non-emergent cases in an ED setting (which is both costly and time-consuming).  Some existing operators in the industry have noticed this market-gap and have already begun shifting their model to accommodate the unmet consumer need in this geography. 

A recent case-study of three rural urgent-cares, all of which opened within the past 8 months, revealed that each location was seeing greater than 30 Patients per day in the first 120-days from opening, with some spikes beyond 100 patients per day.  While the national growth-curve to stability is highly variable for each urgent care location and is dependent on a variety of factors (ex. marketing, operations, location, etc.), the quick “ramp-up time” seen by these groups helps support the concept of rural market viability (i.e. while larger geographies may be required to meet and exceed population densities similar to suburban communities, the lack of services and willingness for patients to travel has opened another avenue for urgent care providers to service an unmet need).

Take Away – Urgent care operations exist, thrive, and die on both ends of the spectrum.  Market viability is not necessarily tied to the composition or distribution of a population, but an understanding of the needs of each individual community.  While the majority of urgent care, like the majority of Americans, reside in urban and suburban settings, many opportunity zones exist in areas barely noticeable, other than a small dot on a map.  Not only are existing urgent care operators proving the idea that stabilized patient volumes can be achieved by creating additional access-points to care, ironically, many of the rural urgent care operators are yielding patients volumes exceeding values observed in their urban/suburban counterparts.  Opening a rural urgent care certainly isn’t for everyone, but at minimum, it should be something to consider!



National UC Realty (NUCR) specializes in Site Selection for Urgent Care Centers nationally and has completed over 400 Urgent Care transactions. By utilizing a proprietary, in-depth Urgent Care site scoring algorithm that analyzes demographics, psychographics, medical competition and other key metrics we’re able to increase confidence and decrease the time required to identify prime locations. Working with us is like having the nation’s best in-house Urgent Care site selection staff, without any of the overhead!


This blog article is a benefit of UCA's Corporate Support Partners (CSP) program. Thank you to National UC Realty a Silver Level CSP.



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