The urgent care market is coming on hot and fast in the U.S. with no signs of slowing down. Between 2007 and 2016, private insurance claims filed for services provided in an urgent care setting increased by 1,725%, according to data collection firm FAIR Health. For comparison, during the same period, emergency room claims grew by only 229%.
According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there were more than 7,000 facilities in the U.S. as of June 2017, with about 6% growth since the end of 2015. The urgent care industry could be worth upwards of $26 billion by 2023.
Clearly, urgent care has tapped into something that healthcare consumers — now responsible for more out-of-pocket expenses than ever before — are clamoring for. But what exactly does urgent care do well that private healthcare practices can emulate? Let’s examine a few of the industry’s patient retention strategies that will help grow your practice.
The biggest market differentiator of urgent care centers also happens to be the easiest thing private practices can emulate: convenience. Urgent care centers have realized that the more they make themselves easy to do business with, the more patients are willing to spend their healthcare dollars there.
To start, most urgent care centers are open after 5 p.m. and on the weekends. This is a godsend for patients who can’t take time off from work. But extended hours aren’t just the only convenience for patients. Online scheduling, where patients can book appointment slots at their scheduled convenience, is an often overlooked capability. Same with walk-in appointments or automatically scheduling into a larger hospital or health system if care needs to be escalated.
Urgent care has engineered their businesses to meet patients where they are at to provide supreme convenience and provider availability. It’s one of the easiest things you can do to grow your practice.
Convenience and availability are just one aspect of the patient experience that urgent care centers do well. Many also have an inviting waiting room with free snacks and complimentary beverages, free Wi-Fi, and other amenities that make waiting more bearable.
Urgent care centers also focus on making wait times as short as possible. They offer capabilities like digital check-in and accept multiple payment methods — ranging from online billing to credit cards to Apple Pay — to get patients in and out of their appointments are fast as possible.
Efficient workflows impact patient wait times, profitability, employee productivity, and patient satisfaction — all things urgent care places a premium on. Everyone from the front desk staff to providers has a role to play to make a practice work as efficiently as possible. But, by also automating routine office tasks, urgent care and private practices can free up their staff and providers, thereby creating efficiencies in the workflows. So, once a patient shows up for their appointment, they can be quickly ushered through the various appointment stages.
Does anyone know how much it costs for the care they receive in healthcare? The multitude of layers between the service delivered and the payment rendered has created a system of confusion — a system that urgent care centers are trying to cut through. There is peace of mind for patients having a clear sense of a flu shot costing $25, a routine visit costing $125, an X-ray costing $150, and so on.
By putting a menu of prices and services front and center, it makes it easier for patients to decide which services they can afford at any given moment. And because those prices are transparent, they are often much less expensive than the hidden prices at other medical facilities, including the hospital emergency room, leading to a consumer-friendly patient retention strategy.
Most urgent care centers tend to be clustered around heavy foot traffic areas to increase visibility. This is no accident in the same way that Starbucks always opens new stores in neighborhoods on the rise. A lot of thought goes into selecting locations that maximize patient throughput.
“If there is a McDonald’s, a bank, and a grocery store nearby, it will be more successful,” says CareWell CEO Sean Ginter of urgent care centers. “We have seen urgent care in traditional medical offices ultimately fail because they weren’t easy to access.”
If there is one thing private practices learn from urgent care it is this: Focus on the patient as a consumer. Engineer everything your practice does with how a modern patient experiences the healthcare system and ultimately give them what they want. Begin thinking like Starbucks or McDonald’s instead of the medical practice across town and you’ll have a sound patient retention strategy to grow your practice.
Like this blog? You might also be interested to read “Why Physicians Should Run Their Practices Like Online Retailers.”