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Urgent Care: A Growing Opportunity for Health Systems

Urgent care is a large (approximately 19%) and rapidly growing (6-10% per year) component of primary healthcare. Because urgent care is growing at four times the rate of scheduled clinics, the share of the primary care visits over 10 years is expected to shift dramatically.

This presents a unique opportunity for health systems to increase revenue and access by developing an urgent care strategy that empowers providers to lead the patient journey and create more complete patient experiences.

Urgent Care and Health System Revenue Growth

The urgent care channel today is largely controlled by private physicians, investors, and urgent care companies, but health systems are quickly developing the urgent care platform as they did with their scheduled primary care investments in the past. And it’s a great time for this kind of investment.

One study conducted in early 2017 by Health System Advisors estimated that there was a 22% unmet need for urgent care in markets where urgent care sites could be financially viable.

The unmet demand is so large that approximately 1,600 new urgent care sites can be supported, generating nearly $3.5 billion in revenue. Ignoring this need translates into a missed revenue opportunity of an estimated $22B per year for health systems.

Investing in urgent care alone won’t guarantee growth, though. Growth requires the optimization of urgent care investments through digital tools that enable health systems to guide patients through the continuum of care.

Guide the Continuum of Care

A successful health system urgent care strategy will capture and direct the continuum of care initiated in the urgent care episode.

Urgent Cares often function as the first touchpoint for patients, and that first touchpoint has proven to be very influential in the continuum of care.

Studies continue to show that most patients who interact with a provider will follow that provider's near-term clinical advice. Likewise, a nationwide study on urgent care found that when a follow-up is advised and a specific provider was recommended, 66% of patients sought follow-up with the recommended provider.

In a competitive environment, whoever controls the first touchpoints will influence patients' secondary decisions and help guide patients into a particular care network.

For health systems today, the challenge is that urgent care providers do not typically refer to specific providers. A survey conducted by UCP in 2015, shows that on average, only about 300 (21%) of patients are being directed to a specific provider or health system. Blockit’s own experience shows that less than 13% of those 300 actually follow through with the referral prior to the implementation of Blockit.

After implementation, on the other hand, nearly 80% of referrals from urgent care are followed through with when that patient is scheduled for their referral at the time of service through Blockit. Those patients are usually seen within 3.5 days of the urgent care visit, and the total time to schedule the referral has been averaging four minutes or less, making the experience more efficient for both patients and providers or staff.

Coordinating the urgent care channel and managing downstream referrals presents a unique opportunity for health systems wanting to reach new patients and keep existing patients that could be easily lured away by convenience. Establishing the necessary tools for seamless patient scheduling that enable urgent care patients to be scheduled for a specific provider no matter the receiving provider’s scheduling system, could generate substantial specialty volume.

Improve Patient Experience Through the Digital Back Door

I know that Implementing a successful urgent care strategy has historically been difficult for health systems. Too often, the health system attempts to offer urgent care as same-day schedule availability or by trying to replicate a low-acuity emergency room with very little attention given to the “back door.”

The back door focuses on what happens after the appointment. The new emphasis on the digital front door is valuable, but most of the efficient, digital automated processes end once the patient sees the doc. An improved urgent care experience requires the automation of referrals so the patient leaves in the same convenient manner in which they entered.

Think about this like a trip to Starbucks. You go in because you want a drink. That’s the front door. Once you’ve arrived, you realize you’re a little hungry, too. If Starbucks was only concerned with getting you in the door, they would have already succeeded. But they want to make sure you leave feeling satisfied, so they offer you a scone as well.

Developing a digital back door helps ensure that your patients leave without any unmet needs. The referral is booked, the appointment scheduled, and the patient can feel that their experience has been completed.

Health systems contemplating an urgent care strategy must consider a highly efficient digital care coordination strategy that continues to be quick and convenient while also ensuring quality of care.

The opportunity for growth exists, and so do the tools that will make sure that growth happens.


Dave Gregorio is the Chief Customer Officer at Blockit and the author of the Purpose Quotient®, a nationally recognized framework for Organizational Development. A 30 year healthcare industry professional with a passion for people, Dave is the founder of the Heroes to Healthcare mission and CEO of ImPowerQ Associates LLC.


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