Impact of Radiology in the Urgent Care Industry - Hero Background Back

Before we dive into the radiology data, we wanted to paint you a picture of your patients at a glance. With access to more urgent care data than ever before, we can easily identify the common characteristics of urgent care patients.

The Urgent Care Patient at a Glance

According to our data, women visit urgent care centers more often than men—56 percent of patients were women and 44 percent were men. While volumes for males and females under 20 are very similar, they seem low due to the very high volume of urgent care visits by females between 20 and 39. (See Figure A.)

Percent of Urgent Care Patients by Age Group and Gender graph
Fifty-six percent of patients visiting urgent care centers from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019 were women.

Radiology’s Role in the Urgent Care Industry

Not all walk-in healthcare clinics are created equal. Urgent care centers have differentiated themselves from retail clinics by offering patients a broader spectrum of services that, in most cases, include radiology services. As an alternative to a visit to the emergency room, urgent care centers often provide the following diagnostic radiology exams:

  • X-ray
  • CT (Computed tomography)
  • EKG (Electrocardiogram)
  • MA (Mammography)
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • NM (Nuclear Medicine)
  • US (Ultrasound)

While urgent care clinics generally offer these services, we thought it would be interesting to find out what percent of our client base actually performed radiology services for their patients during the year covered by this report. We looked at urgent care visits only and included only customers that were live for the entire time period. We found that 92 percent of these clinics, a significant majority, documented a radiology CPT code.

This confirms that urgent care clinics are indeed seeing patients in need of radiology services—services traditionally performed in a hospital or emergency department setting.

To find out just how often radiology is included in urgent care visits, we looked at total urgent care visits from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019. Of these visits, a radiology exam was performed in 10.7 percent of the time. (See Figure B.)

Urgent Care Visits with a Radiology Code
10.7 percent of all urgent care visits included a radiology CPT code from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.

Breakdown of Urgent Care Radiology Visits by Age and Gender

When we look only at urgent care visits by gender and age for that same time period, a few things stand out:

  • Teenage boys had the majority of x-rays for the upper extremities.
  • Females had more x-rays for lower extremities across all ages.
  • Females had more chest x-rays than males at most every age.
  • Teens of both genders had spikes in the number of x-rays for upper and lower extremities, which is somewhat expected due to activity.

(Figure C) compares all x-rays by gender and age.

Urgent Care Visits with X-rays by Gender and Age
Females have more urgent care radiology visits than males across most ages.

Breakdown of Urgent Care Radiology Visits by Modality

Of all modalities, x-rays were by far the most widely utilized by urgent care providers. Of all visits with a radiology code, x-rays accounted for 88 percent. When we take out all visits with EKGs, the number of radiology visits with an X-ray code increases to 97 percent. (See Figure D.)

Radiology Visits by Modality
The most common radiology procedure by far was x-ray. The second most common was EKG.

Seasonal Radiology Trends

We were interested in identifying any radiology trends based on seasonality. When we looked at the data month over month, we found that chest x-rays accounted for a larger portion of x-rays during flu season for all age groups. The most significant seasonal increase in chest x-rays—from 30 to 52 percent—was noted in patients ages 40 to 64. (See Figure E.)

Seasonal Increase in Chest X-Rays by Age Group
Chest x-rays for patients ages 40 to 64 showed a significant increase (22%) during flu season. Although x-rays for teenagers also increase, there was only a seven percent rise in percent of visits with x-rays during flu season.

The spike in chest x-rays during flu season is similar to the general spike in urgent care visits during flu season. Clinics can expect a spike in chest x-rays similar in proportion to their flu season visits spike. It’s interesting to note that overall, the percent of visits with an x-ray is lower during flu season, despite the fact that chest x-rays spike, which is likely due to a significant decline in x-rays of the upper and lower extremities.

Casts, Splints and Straps

When we looked at the data for x-rays only, we found that only 3.29 percent had a cast, split, or strap procedure associated with the x-ray. While there is no reason to be certain why so many of these x-ray visits were not coded with an additional procedure, it could indicate that many x-ray patients were referred to other providers, or that x-rays are often used to rule out the need for additional procedures.

Radiology Procedure Based on Body Part by Age and Gender

Chest and rib x-rays were by far the most common radiology procedure for both genders across all age groups when we look at all urgent care visits with a radiology code. It’s interesting to note that the second most common body parts x-ray for females of all ages was for the foot or ankle, and for males over 19, the most common x-ray was the spine and abdomen.

Some other interesting statistics that came out of the research are:

  • Children from ages zero to 12 had a significantly higher number of radiology procedures on the wrist (13.07%) than any other group.
  • Ankle x-rays were most common in teens (ages 13-19).
  • Teens were the only age group for which chest x-rays are not the most common radiology procedure.
  • For senior patients (65 and older), chest x-rays were the most common radiology procedure.

The charts below break down x-rays by body part across age and gender. (See Figure F.)

X-rays by Body Part Across Age and Gender
Percentage of visits may total more than 100 percent due to X-rays on multiple body parts per visit.
X-rays by Body Part Across Age and Gender - Graph 2

The Takeaway

As on-demand healthcare becomes an increasingly important component of healthcare in America, urgent care organizations must continue to observe the treatments and trends that arise to improve patient care. The data suggests that patients are turning to the on-demand healthcare industry for radiology as an alternative to emergency rooms and primary care.

It’s interesting to note that x-rays are the most common radiology procedures suggesting there is space for urgent care businesses to grow around other available modalities. In fact, according to a recent article in the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine (JUCM), urgent care clinics are more frequently turning to ultrasound as a go-to diagnostic resource. Urgent care clinics should also consider ways to promote their radiology business throughout the year, appealing to the families of young athletes and active kids. Are you marketing your radiology services?

At Experity, our goal has always been to power the patient centered healthcare revolution. Experity Teleradiology is specifically focused on improving the patient experience through fast and accurate teleradiology reads.

By using this service, urgent care clinics and their patients get timely answers allowing them to deliver the right care on-demand and living up to our mission. We stand behind our software and services, but more importantly, are committed to urgent care clinics as a trusted business partner. By sharing urgent care data based on the biggest urgent care specific data set, we further our goal and support urgent care clinics nationwide.

 

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