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Hiring at "ambulatory" health clinics surges as people seek cheaper care

U.S. saw 164,000 new jobs in July
  • Two-thirds of the more than 400,000 health-care industry jobs created this year were in so-called ambulatory health services.
  • These jobs can be found in urgent health care centers, retail clinics and specialized care clinics.
  • Consumers are increasingly snubbing the emergency room in favor of these standalone clinics, which are considerably more affordable than an ER visit.

Mothers might not want their children to grow up to be cowboys (especially given the poor outlook for that line of work), but a career in outpatient health services is another story.

Job growth in so-called ambulatory health services was a bright spot in Friday's job numbers. The Labor Department's latest employment report shows that fully two-thirds of the 405,000 jobs created in the health care industry this year were in urgent health care centers, specialized outpatient clinics and convenient care clinics.

The figures reflect a broader shift in health care in which more Americans prefer to seek care at ambulatory clinics rather than visiting an emergency room or hospital. More than 8,000 urgent care clinics are now open across the U.S., compared with 6,400 in 2014, according to Consumer Reports. And it's easy to see why they're growing: Treatment in a hospital emergency room costs about 10 times more than in an urgent care center.

"Patients prefer to go to urgent care centers, to do outpatient care at a surgery center or to visit a clinic" than go to the ER or schedule an in-patient hospital visit, said Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. She also noted that many hospitals are opening these clinics to help diversify their revenue. 

Visits to ERs for health concerns that aren't urgent, like muscle strains or rashes, decreased by a third from 2008 to 2015, according to a study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. At the same time, visits to urgent care centers and retail clinics doubled and tripled, respectively. 

Employers added 164,000 jobs last month, keeping the labor market on track. The two strongest sectors in July were professional and technical services companies and health care, which helped lift the job numbers and offset weakness in the mining industry. 

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