The Intake

Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

What private healthcare practices can learn from urgent care centers

Grow an independent practice and perfect patient retention by following the example of urgent care centers.

urgent care lessons

The urgent care market is a huge medical growth sector in the U.S. with no signs of slowing down. A record 11,150 urgent care centers have popped up around the United States and they are growing at 7% a year per CNN. (This does not include clinics inside retail stores like CVS' MinuteClinic or freestanding emergency departments.) Patient volume at urgent care centers has grown 60% since 2019.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there were more than 7,000 urgent care 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 is urgent care doing well that private healthcare practices can emulate? Let’s examine a few of the urgent care industry’s patient retention strategies that will help grow your practice.

Here are the top strategies to steal from Urgent Care Centers

1. Be more available for appointments

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 urgent care centers offer to patients. Urgent care centers often offer online scheduling, where patients can book appointment slots at their scheduled convenience, and is an often overlooked capability t independent practices. Ind addition, urgent care centers offer 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.

2. Focus on excellent patient experience in the waiting room

This may seem like a no-brainer, but convenience and availability are just one aspect of the patient experience that urgent care centers do well. Many urgent care centers 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. Most urgent care centers 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 as fast as possible. The less time patients and their families spend waiting the more likely they are to leave positive reviews as well.

2. Create efficient workflows

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. By also automating routine office tasks, urgent care and private practices can free up their staff and providers, thereby creating efficiencies in the workflows. Once a patient shows up for their appointment, they can be quickly ushered through the various appointment stages. Consider a fast, reliable EHR to streamline operations.

3. Deploy affordable and transparent pricing

Does anyone know how much it costs for the care they receive during a medical visit ahead of time? 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. Urgent care centers have given patients the peace of mind that comes with having a clear understanding 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 experience and happy patient roster.

4. Find an opportune medical office location

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 urgent care center 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 can 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.

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Written by

Andrea Curry, head of editorial at The Intake

Andrea Curry is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years of storytelling under her belt. She has won multiple awards for her work and is now the head of editorial at The Intake, where she puts her passion for helping independent healthcare practices into action.

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