On this edition of Just Checking In, industry expert Alan Ayers discusses the viability of airport urgent care centers.
Hi this is Alan Ayers and I’m just checking in. Today I am at the Chicago O’Hare International Airport held up by some winter weather delays the last week in March which really makes a ton of sense. But the topic that I wanted to talk to you about is urgent care in the airport terminal. Here at O’Hare there is a University of Illinois Urgent Care Center. It’s been here for years. It serves the general public as well as offers some occupational medical services for the airports employees. So the question is… How viable a business model is urgent care in the airport?
I’m not familiar with the specific performance of this center. The fact that it has been there a long time indicates to me that it is profitable, it’s been successful, although we don’t know that for certain. But when I have looked at this before I see some fairly significant challenges with the business model. If you look at it from a consumer behavior standpoint, certainly people get sick when they travel so they are positioned to reach a market that has a need. You know people traveling sick, they need urgent care. But the question is: When would a consumer use a center like this? So if you are feeling bad before the trip you would have to know that the center is here in the airport, you have to arrive early, would you know exactly how long a visit would take? It just doesn’t seem likely that someone would use this center before a trip. So then the question is… Would they use the center if they were connecting through? A big airport like O’Hare has hubs for multiple airlines, millions of people connect through this airport every year. Well if you are connecting through, if you’ve started your journey and unless you have a really significant layover like 3 hours or longer I would think most people would be focused on their final destination. And if they are feeling well enough to get on that last flight they will probably seek urgent care when they land. And then the last time people might use it is when they land, when you land you are not feeling, well do you really want to hang around the airport? Or would you rather get in your car go to the urgent care in the community, particularly if you live here, go to the urgent care that you are most familiar with.
So looking at when people might use this, it’s really hard to align the availability of this urgent care service with consumer demand or you know with consumer behavior. Now this center does offer some additional services… They are advertising teeth whitening in 45 minutes. That clearly appeals to people who have time to kill. One of the things I have observed that when a urgent care center really starts promoting ancillary services things like asthetics it’s because they are not hitting their numbers in their core accident and injury and illness business. That very well could be the care here that they are offering teeth whitening because they are not seeing the injuries or illness. When you look at who a clinic like this might serve I think it really comes down to the airport employees. Airports employ thousands of people, many different employers. You have the airline, you have the airport itself, you have the police department, the fire department, you have the federal government, you have the transportation security administration. You have all the retailers, all the restaurants, tons of transportation, all of these are jobs that require some degree of occupational medicine at the very least drug testing. And the transportation if you are driving any sort of vehicle, DOT physical. FAA physicals for the pilots. All sorts of compliance, vaccinations, flight attendants traveling internationally need their travel vaccine. So those would be services that would be available at a center like this certainly offered to the employees of the airport. I do see some practical issues and I am not sure exactly how it works with this clinic because the clinic for instance is on the gate side of security how does somebody come in for a pre-employement physical per se? Is there a special way that they can get though security to use the medical clinic or would that be off limits or someone’s coming for pre-employment wouldn’t it be more convenient to go to an urgent care center near the hiring office near the company. And they’re certainly U.S. health works, Concentra, Physicians Immediate Care all have centers that flank the area surrounding O’Hare. So it is really an interesting scenario to me that this center, you know looking through the window looking through the floor plan, it is small. It looks like it is maybe, if even, 1,200 square feet. Maybe 1,000 square feet. Looks like it has three exam rooms, looks like it has an X-Ray and certainly looking at their list of services they do offer a full scope of urgent care and occupational services. And the fact, like I said, it has been here a while, clearly it is serving its purpose. I would presume being in business for a number of years that it is profitable. I haven’t really seen this model replicated elsewhere. I think probably due to some of the concerns or some of the issues that I raise. So it is something interesting to think about. It does go to show that wherever you have people that have medical needs urgent care entrepreneurs are stepping forward to meet those needs. So this is Alan Ayers, from Chicago, O’Hare, I’m just checking in.