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URGENT CARE: Fostering Emotional Wellness

Raising the Level of Care with Brief Mental Health Services Covered by CPT Codes

by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness


In recent years, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of urgent care centers in the United States, with 400–500 new facilities opening annually. Particularly noteworthy is that approximately 80% of the U.S. population resides within a 10-minute drive of an urgent care center (Urgent Care Association, UCA).

Urgent care facilities provide an invaluable opportunity for healthcare providers to improve their quality of care by looking beyond physical symptoms and addressing patients' emotional well-being—the whole person. This timely article explores how urgent care centers can foster emotional wellness by implementing brief mental health screening and counseling, preventative measures, Acute Traumatic Stress Management (ATSM), and AI-Integrated Emotional Wellness (AIEW). 


Urgent care centers provide immediate medical attention for non-life-threatening conditions. By integrating emotional and behavioral health into urgent care, we can improve access to mental health services (Healthline, 2021). The World Health Organization has emphasized the immediate need to transform mental health care, highlighting the importance of addressing mental and physical health needs.


Healthcare providers in urgent care facilities can learn to conduct brief mental health screenings, provide brief counseling, and implement preventative services. Urgent caregivers can be the gatekeepers, opening the door to mental health services for countless people in need.

ATSM offers a traumatic stress response protocol for addressing a wide spectrum of experiences, from the seemingly mundane to the most severe. It aims to “jump-start” an individual’s coping and problem-solving abilities, stabilize acute traumatic stress symptoms, and stimulate healthy, adaptive functioning. This approach can be particularly beneficial in urgent care settings, where patients may be experiencing acute stress reactions (Lerner and Shelton, 2003).


AIEW addresses the intersection of artificial intelligence's (AI) cognitive capabilities and human emotions. It shows great potential as an adjunct to the provision of mental health care. Acknowledging the irreplaceable importance of genuine, in-person communication, AIEW focuses on how AI can foster emotional well-being through various AIEW strategies.


Addressing emotional wellness in urgent care settings is covered under Current Procedural Technology (CPT) codes. The American Medical Association lists CPT codes for administering behavioral health screening, treatment, and preventative services. These codes identify all the items and services included within specific designated health service categories or that may qualify for certain exceptions.


Improving our quality of healthcare with a holistic approach is of utmost importance. By integrating brief mental health screening, counseling, preventative services, ATSM, and AIEW into urgent care facilities, we can address the emotional needs of patients along with their physical needs, improving the quality of comprehensive healthcare. 



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