The number of urgent care clinics in the United States has exploded in the past five years. In fact, the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine says there are currently as many as 9,300 clinics in the country. It’s very clear that this care model is growing.
There was a time consumers were not entirely sure if an urgent care center offered any real benefit to them. Many assumed urgent care was simply a type of physician’s office with extended hours. But as urgent care clinics have evolved, so has consumer awareness of the benefits they offer.
Be Exactly What Patients and Payers Want
One of the first ways urgent care clinics have evolved is they figured out exactly what consumers wanted and delivered it to them. And what consumers want is to be treated quickly and for less out of pocket costs. Many clinics are one-stop shops where those in need can receive the care they need without worrying whether they need an emergency room or urgent care facility.
As important as it has become for clinics to be what the consumers need them to be to get that foot traffic, it has become equally important to be what payers need them to be to get paid. Some health insurance companies will only pay freestanding emergency departments (FED), while others only urgent care facilities, and so many clinics have found it necessary to become both.
Increasing Competition Requires Additional Services Offered
As I mentioned up top, the number of urgent care centers in the United States has grown exponentially. In big cities, it’s not uncommon to have two competing clinics across the street from one another. In order to stay afloat in a crowded marketplace, many urgent care clinics have had to begin offering additional services.
Many inner city clinics have increased their patient volume by providing occupational medicine. This means a single facility can offer its community members combined occupational medicine, urgent care, and community health and wellness all under the same umbrella.
Many clinics have found the addition of services a natural fit to their brick-and-mortar setting because the right resources were already in place. By blending staff and resources, a person might be drug-tested for a job at an urgent care clinic, walk into that same clinic for an initial worker injury, and be seen for follow-up care. This level of care has made it possible for clinics to stand out from others in the immediate area.
More Focus on Coordinated Care
Care coordination is key in the new value-based healthcare market. Poor follow-up care plans often lead to readmission penalties and decreased patient satisfaction evaluations. Before, if a patient sought care in an urgent care center, that information may have never made it back to the patient’s PCP.
Yet another way urgent care clinics have evolved is to focus more on coordinated care efforts. For many facilities, this may mean actually sharing an EHR with their affiliated hospital and local physicians’ group to ensure that proper communication occurs between primary care, urgent care, and specialists.
One way this communication raises the level of patient care is by decreasing the number of duplicate copays. A patient’s urgent care copay is applied to ER copay or inpatient bill if further care is required. Shared EHRs also allow urgent care centers to note which patients are transfers, alerting the ER docs to find their records and attached lab and test results.
Allowing Patient Trends to Dictate Evolution
Many urgent care clinics are taking note of patient trends and letting those dictate when and how they evolve and diversify their offerings. For example, UrgentWay, an urgent care center in Hempstead, NYC has recently added immigration medical exam to its portfolio based solely on the needs of the patients.
These services evolved because a majority of the patients being seen were and are from Spanish origin, looking for an easy green card medical exam. Not only did the clinic hire Spanish speaking staff to facilitate these patients during their visit but offered a flexible, no appointment schedule so that these people did not have to skip work to attend to their family immigration needs.
Education Through Comprehensive Marketing Campaigns
And finally, urgent care centers have had to help their clientele evolve right along with them by educating them on the difference between emergency and urgent care through aggressive marketing campaigns. The more consumers have become aware of their health care options, the more they have opted to be seen by urgent care clinics, where wait time is often less than 20 minutes and costs are sometimes one-quarter a visit to the emergency room.
With the baby boomer population aging, a shortage of PCPs, and more insured consumers in the marketplace than ever before, it’s safe to say that urgent care facilities will continue to evolve and play an important role in the ever-changing healthcare landscape.
Jack Roberts is an expert marketer who specializes in promoting and growing physician practices. He currently works with UrgentWay to help improve their online footprint and garner interest in their Urgent Care, Occupational Health and Health services.