As Flu Rates Increase, Urgent Care Clinics Expand Their Locations

Entrance to emergency room at hospital
Everyone knows that, during the colder winter months, the flu — a viral infection that targets the body’s respiratory system — can run rampant. However, many people may be surprised to hear that this common condition can be fatal, especially when it is contracted by patients who are very old or very young. For this reason, doctors typically recommend that patients get a yearly flu vaccination and seek out medical care if they experience any symptoms. Now, due to the prevalence of an aggressive strain of the flu, which the vaccine is less effective in treating, the CDC has declared that the United States is facing a flu epidemic.

Currently, 22 states and Puerto Rico are reporting high levels of flu activity, with over 28,000 confirmed cases in the state of South Carolina alone. Already, 500 people in the state have been hospitalized due to complications, and 20 have died. Across the country, hospitals and doctors offices are struggling to meet the volume of patients who may have the virus, numbers many doctors say have surpassed their expectations.
Because of these high numbers, which are in turn causing long waiting periods, many patients are turning to a relatively new presence in the healthcare industry: urgent care clinics. Designed to treat non-life-threatening conditions, including most cases of the flu, urgent care centers often have shorter waiting periods and convenient hours. Moreover, they are often more affordable, with the average urgent care visit costing under $150, while a trip to the emergency room often costs around $1,500. With these benefits, it is no wonder that many flu patients are choosing to seek care at urgent care clinics instead of more traditional medical facilities.
However, because of the epidemic-level number of patients many of these centers are facing, even urgent care facilities are becoming overwhelmed. As a result, many clinics are choosing to expand into an unexpected territory: America’s malls.
Recently, a number of real estate experts have reported that urgent care clinics are seeking out empty spaces in strips malls for their new locations. In many cases, these clinics specifically seek out defunct Blockbuster locations, closed RadioShacks and former Sears stores, which are often the right size for their business and in areas their customers will be familiar with.
While this choice may seem strange to some, the experts report that malls are taking advantage of the trend. Urgent care centers can afford to pay slightly higher rent prices per square foot, sign longer leases, and often have better credit than retailers. Due to the wide range of injuries the clinics, they are also a draw for customers, making the mall a hub for all types of services, a fact that will surely draw other tenants.
These new urgent care centers may have been kick-started by the rising numbers of conditions like the flu, but with the increasing popularity of urgent care centers, the chances that these clinics will succeed are good. Will you be able to get next year’s flu shot while looking for new fall fashions at your local mall? Who can say? But if you experience flu symptoms this year, one thing is certain: to protect your health and prevent the spread of the virus, seek medical attention from a hospital, doctor’s office or urgent care center immediately.

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