The COVID-19 pandemic placed an immeasurable strain on the U.S. healthcare system that could reshape the way Americans approach doctor visits in the future. Delays, cancellations, and heightened health concerns have run rampant in the past two years, so an increasing number of adults are exploring alternatives to their primary care physicians.
According to a recent CivicScience study, 35% of adults or someone in their household have visited an urgent care center in the past year because they couldn’t get an appointment with their physician — with 17% of adults opting for urgent care more than once in this situation. With ballooning wait times, urgent care and concierge primary care doctors have emerged as a more common fallback.
You might chalk it up to lower reliance on primary care doctors among younger Americans, but the under-35 set is disproportionately more likely to have visited urgent care because their physician was unavailable. A majority of Gen Z adults have done this in the past year, which nearly doubles the rate of those 35 and older.
In addition to being a more common opt-out for the younger generations, it’s a more prevalent move for Americans who claim to be somewhat or not very healthy — but even those who are “very healthy” slightly over-index compared to the Gen Pop for repeat urgent care visits in the past year.
Compared to the last time CivicScience took a comprehensive look at the cost of COVID-related medical delays, more Americans have experienced scheduling issues. Less than a majority of Americans say this hasn’t happened at all during the pandemic, and there’s been an uptick among adults who claim this has happened three or more times.
Americans recently reporting the highest stress levels are, unsurprisingly, the most likely to be experiencing ongoing issues with doctor scheduling. Heightened mental and physical health concerns, further entangled throughout the pandemic, certainly could become a post-COVID fixture if these scheduling difficulties persist indefinitely.
Although urgent care may largely operate as a stopgap between primary care doctors, specialists, and hospitals, an increasing number of Americans are relying on it multiple times per year for routine visits. As drugstore chains more thoroughly pursue in-house and virtual primary care, don’t expect this trend to reverse anytime soon.