Urgent Care Case Study: Reducing ED Overcrowding Through Diversion Initiative

ED overcrowding is a significant challenge faced by healthcare systems globally, leading to increased wait times, patient dissatisfaction, and compromised quality of care. Studies indicate that a considerable portion of ED visits, up to 40 percent, are for lower acuity conditions that could be managed in an outpatient setting such as primary care or Urgent Care centers. These visits often include respiratory infections, common illnesses and minor procedures such as suture removals, IV therapy, and wound care, which do not necessarily require the resources of an emergency department.

A member organization of the Urgent Care Association (UCA) recognized the need to address ED overcrowding while improving patient access to appropriate care settings. This organization designed and implemented a comprehensive ED diversion program aimed at redirecting non-emergent cases to Urgent Care facilities.


  1. Educate patients on appropriate utilization of healthcare services, emphasizing when and where Urgent Care can be utilized effectively.
  2. Introduce patients to Urgent Care for episodic care and minor procedures.
  3. Collaborate with payers, patients, and health systems to streamline referral processes conduct effective marketing outreach (text-based communication and targeted advertising) and incentivize Urgent Care usage. 
  4. Demonstrate cost savings to insurers by diverting unnecessary ED visits to lower-cost Urgent Care settings and provide incentives for patients to use Urgent Care services.

Implementation: The organization employed various strategies to achieve these objectives:

  • Education campaigns: Providing information to patients about appropriate utilization of healthcare services through brochures, websites, and in-person consultations.
  • Referral programs: Collaborating with payers and health systems to streamline referral processes from ED to Urgent Care, ensuring seamless transitions for patients.
  • Marketing outreach: Utilizing text-based communication and targeted advertising to reach potential patients and educate them about the benefits of Urgent Care.
  • Digital solutions: Developing a mobile app for discharge instructions, including information on nearby Urgent Care centers for follow-up and lower-acuity visits.
  • Incentive programs: Offering copay holidays and other incentives to encourage patients to choose Urgent Care over the ED for non-emergent conditions.

Results: The implementation of the ED diversion program yielded promising results:

  • ED use decreased by 23 percent among the target group that received communications about Urgent Care utilization.
  • Urgent Care usage from the target group increased by 38 percent, indicating a successful shift in patient behavior towards more appropriate care settings.
  • Cost savings were demonstrated to insurers by diverting non-emergent cases from the ED to lower-cost Urgent Care facilities.
  • Targeted marketing efforts, including text-based communication, proved effective in influencing patient decisions regarding healthcare utilization.

By implementing a comprehensive ED diversion initiative, the organization successfully addressed ED overcrowding while improving patient access to appropriate care settings. The program’s success highlights the importance of education, collaboration, and targeted marketing in promoting the effective utilization of healthcare services. Some, if not all, of these strategies can be adopted by Urgent Care organizations of all sizes to improve community education and health outcomes.

If you have any questions, please contact UCA Advocacy Manager Kristin Rastatter.