COVID-19 came out of nowhere. One minute urgent care leaders were thinking about the end of flu season, and the next they were confronted by a highly contagious virus and empty patient queues.
With mandatory stay-at-home orders, a frightened general population, and the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) cautioning people to postpone or cancel non-emergent medical visits, urgent care clinics began to face record-low visit volume. Combined with the scarcity of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supply shortages, this contributed to a decrease in monthly visits to an average of 88 visits per clinic per week in April. On April 6, 2020, our customers saw their lowest Monday of the year with 38,779 total urgent care visits.
Urgent care owners and operators responded to this drop in visits in different ways, which resulted in a variety of outcomes. Most attempted to secure more PPE and acquire test kits to supply their patients with the testing and care they were desperately demanding. As more clinics equipped themselves to care for COVID-19 patients, visit volume began to rebound. By Monday, June 1, visit volume had increased by 65 percent for customers using Experity’s solution (63,888 visits)—higher than our pre-COVID planning forecasts.
Throughout June, visit volume continued to spike—increasing dramatically week over week. This trend is one the urgent care industry has never seen in the summer months. On Monday, July 6, 2020, Experity customers reported 105,639 visits nationwide, surpassing traffic for our customers’ busiest flu day year-to-date (February 3). July visit volume data peaked at an average of 253 patient visits per clinic the week of July 1, which is a sharp contrast with the numbers recorded early in the pandemic.
To see how the pandemic unfolded throughout the year, download our COVID-19 Timeline infographic.
During the month of July, urgent care clinics using Experity administered 297, 938 COVID-19 tests nationwide. Once an untapped resource for testing, urgent care clinics are now considered a vital part of the pandemic response, meeting the needs of their patients and their communities.
When we compare visit volume from July 2019 to July 2020, we can see that volume is rebounding even though clinics experienced a significant drop early in the year. In July 2019, average visits per clinic per day was 29.2. In July 2020, that number increased by 49.3 percent to 43.5.
Data from the third week of July shows that 30 percent of clinics saw more than 35 patients a day in 2019. In 2020, 53 percent of clinics saw more than 35 patients per day. The rise in visits month over month says a lot about urgent care—it reflects our agility and willingness to pivot, and our entrepreneurial spirit in finding the best way to serve patients in an uncertain world.
COVID-19 was not a part of the urgent care conversation in 2019. Flu season and its severity had a big impact on our business, and flu visits accounted for 25 percent of total urgent care visits. While we have just passed the halfway point in 2020, our data indicates that a full 41 percent of urgent care visits are COVID-19 related versus 10 percent that are flu related.
Urgent care clinics that felt the pinch of low visit volumes are grateful for the return of patients, yet the surge in traffic is also an unexpected challenge for some. Volume seems to be holding relatively steady at these higher volumes—which may be an indication of capacity constraint.
It begs the question: Have some clinics reached the natural peak capacity their clinics can handle? Only time will tell, but for now increases in efficiency remain key. With new patients lining up for COVID-19 testing and their traditional patient mix returning for care, clinics may have to extend their operating hours, increase staff, or find other creative ways to meet demand until COVID-19 infection rates decline.