By Heather Real
Urgent care clinics anticipate the annual busy season as summer ends and the need for cold, flu and back-to-school related services ramp up during the fall and winter months. This year, however, the industry saw record high visit volumes in June. For example, on Monday, February 3 during the height of 2020 flu season, about 50% of U.S clinics saw a total of 105,331 visits while just a few months ago, on Monday, July 6 those clinics saw 105,802 total visits.
It’s safe to say busy season has arrived early in the urgent care space. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and as anticipated virus spikes threaten to put a historically high demand on clinics, urgent care providers may be facing the busiest busy season in the market’s existence.
To meet this growing demand, it is crucial for urgent cares to bolster efficiency, care offerings, and surge capacity. Here are a few ways clinics can optimize their business to deliver more efficient, effective care while also adding value to the business.
A Spotlight on Offering Occupational Medicine
Historically, occupational medicine has been beneficial because it allows urgent cares to deliver services and boost visit volumes during non-peak periods. Occupational medicine visits typically increase from June through August, when companies ramp up hiring and workplace injuries spike. As clinics evolve to meet the needs of an expanding patient population, integrating occupational medicine offerings can enable the business to sufficiently treat more patients and introduce a new revenue stream.
Although workplace injuries drive most of the revenue for occupational medicine contracts in general, clinics can also use occupational medicine through scheduled employer-paid services such as drug screens and physicals. Additionally, collecting payment is often easier with occupational medicine because companies are legally required to carry workers’ compensation insurance that pays their preventive and compliance services.
During the current pandemic crisis specifically, the largest occupational medicine trend in urgent care is partnering with employers to offer COVID-19 testing. This trend showcases how busy clinics can be by offering occupational medicine, which requires efficient, flexible HIT solutions. Expanding into occupational medicine is a critical opportunity for more revenue, higher overall patient volumes, and continued growth for the business.
Forging a Hybrid Business Model with Primary Care
The urgent care and primary care settings have been merging for years. For the clinics evolving toward a primary care-hybrid model, an opportunity exists to serve the growing number of patients who increasingly choose on-demand clinics to receive offerings traditionally served in a primary care setting. Serving this clientele, in addition to the increase in visits that clinics are seeing during the pandemic, presents an opportunity for clinics to capitalize on these new patients and convert them into longer-term care, recurring patients.
To succeed in this evolving space, the patient experience is top priority. It’s crucial that clinics can seamlessly manage, track, and document both short and longer-term care visits directly in their EMR platform to deliver efficient care for both types of patients. For example, providers can provide fast and informed care for any type of visit if they can access patient visit history and document acute and chronic problems in one comprehensive interface. Additionally, having access to a history and tracking grid to view past labs and vital signs, along with a referral management page to easily manage, schedule, and follow up on referral orders, will boost care efficiency and effectiveness for providers.
Optimize Your Technology to Optimize Your Workflow
Urgent care providers rely heavily on the capabilities of their EMR and other HIT functionalities that enable more speed, flexibility, and accuracy to treat influxes of patients efficiently. While there is plenty of room for improvement if providers aren’t getting everything they need out of a given HIT platform, remote-service capabilities are a top priority for HIT enhancements right now.
Remote triage and telehealth capabilities are immensely valuable for managing patients and the infectious COVID-19 virus. To minimize physical interactions between providers and patients, hundreds of U.S clinics are using HIT applications to triage patients remotely and manage patient check-ins from home or the clinic parking lot. As of June, for example, these clinics have been able to see more than 120,000 patients remotely via Experity’s telemedicine app. They can also use these services to facilitate virtual communication with patients and assess COVID-19 risks before a patient even enters a clinic. Assessing potential risk and identifying patient needs at the onset is critical to ensure a safe, seamless workflow for staff and patients.
Safety First: Keeping Patients Safe at Your Facility
It might sound trivial but keeping a facility safe from onsite infection isn’t as simple as it used to be. With staff navigating the novel coronavirus in tandem with an off-cycle busy season, keeping a clinic up to code is vital for a successful, safe, and healthy business. It’s important that staff stay abreast of the latest sanitization, maintenance, and operational protocols through consistent education and, confidently enforce safety protocols with patients entering the facility.
Clinics should follow best practices from a reliable source such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). On Friday, June 19, the CDC released updated guidelines on infection prevention specifically for urgent care settings. These guidelines included updated information around the use of face masks, personal protection equipment, and disinfecting. Routinely following changing protocols is not only crucial for overall safety and workflow, but it’s something that clientele is likely to take notice of in a fear-heightened climate. Whether during a patient’s visit or in regard to staff retention during busy season, feeling safe or not feeling safe at a clinic can be make or break for the urgent care business.
There are great opportunities for urgent care clinics to optimize and add value to their business amid an unexpected busy season this summer. By expanding service lines and enhancing technological capabilities at your clinic, your business will be better positioned to bolster its bottom line, deliver more efficient care, and develop a reoccurring clientele of patients.
Heather Real is a Consultant at Experity, the leading provider of clinical and practice management software in the urgent care space.