United Healthcare, one of the largest insurance providers in the U.S., recently published an online news release educating consumers on seeking medical attention at an urgent care center or retail clinic instead of the emergency room. This is a positive sign for urgent care, which is still currently a source of medical attention that is often misunderstood and, therefore, overlooked by the average consumer.

Urgent care began in the mid-1970s as an alternative to emergency departments and primary care offices. However, most urgent care centers closed by the late 1980s, and it wasn’t until the late ‘90s that urgent care began to re-emerge as a means to unclog emergency departments and provide a lower-cost alternative. However, despite the resurgence of urgent care over the past decade, most consumers are still not aware of the services urgent care facilities provide or the cost savings they can experience – approximately a third of what they (or their insurance providers) would pay at the emergency room.

It’s encouraging to see a large health insurance company not only recognize the benefits of utilizing urgent care but also see the value in educating their customers on alternative sources of health care. More educational efforts such as this have the potential to have an exceptionally positive effect on the U.S. health care system, as consumers will then have the knowledge that they have other options besides the ER when their primary care physician in unavailable.