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Urgent Care Quarterly - COVID-19 Pandemic Issue - Header

COVID-19’s Impact on the Urgent Care Industry

Experity is excited to launch the next issue of the Urgent Care Quarterly ” The Pandemic Issue. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, our data team has been collecting information on visit volume, operational efficiencies, and testing trends to provide a broad view of how urgent care clinics have responded in this new normal. We’ve pulled all that urgent care data and added our insights in this new issue of Urgent Care Quarterly. The following is a short summary of what we found. Download the full issue to get all the data.

The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a year that will go down in the history of global health. The urgent care industry has been affected in ways that could not have been anticipated — from the lack of resources and testing to the significant drop (and subsequent increase) in urgent care visit volumes. Urgent care clinics have been asked to stretch the limits of their ingenuity and agility to stay operational and valuable throughout the response efforts.

When President Trump announced a national public health emergency in March, urgent care clinics prepared for an onslaught of patients. Instead, many people chose to stay home with minor symptoms rather than risk exposure to the virus. This resulted in an unexpected—but significant—drop in visits.

Because of this, we saw some clinics cut their hours or close entirely, while others ramped up their services. Many urgent cares set up parking lot testing centers and called on the media to remind the public that urgent care facilities could be the best solution for patients in need of COVID-19 care.

While many things continue to remain uncertain, one thing we do know is this: COVID-19 is here to stay, and it most often presents itself as a respiratory illness. With many urgent care visits related to upper respiratory illnesses and conditions, it’s safe to say that the urgent care industry is in this for the long haul.

Urgent Care Visits Volume Trends

Visit volume is one of the most important performance metrics in urgent care, and we’ve been tracking this key metric throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s the good news: as a whole, Experity data indicates that patients are returning to urgent care clinics and visit volume is steadily increasing.

After a significant drop in visits early in the year, patients began to slowly return to urgent care clinics in late April. By mid-June, visit volume surpassed the three-year average. In July, clinics were surpassing flu visit volume benchmarks. With more access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies becoming increasingly available, urgent cares are seeing a welcome rebound in visit volume.  (See Figure A.)

Figure A.
Visits Per Clinic Per Day Trend  March 2020″July 2020

Visits Per Clinic Per Day Trend - COVID-19
Urgent care visit volume reached its lowest point this year on April 9, with an average of 16 visits per clinic per day. By early June, volume had rebounded. By the beginning of July, visits were significantly higher than three-year historic visit volumes during the same period of time.

The COVID-19 data also shows us that five percent of clinics are seeing unprecedented visit volume, with more than 100 visits per day. Providing parking lot testing or participating in mass testing events may be contributing to this significant increase in volume.  (See Figure B.)

Figure B.
Visits Per Clinic Per Day Trend  Top 20% of Performers vs. Total Urgent Care

Visits Per Clinic Per Day Trend - COVID-19
The top 20% of clinics were seeing on average twice the traffic throughout the pandemic. Overall, urgent care visit volume surpassed its three-year average.

Regional Visit Volume Trends

Initially, we expected visit volume to be inconsistent region to region, but the data suggests otherwise. When we compared visit per day across different regions for the first two weeks of July, we found that volume was up everywhere—a 54 percent increase on average.

The West South-Central region of the country saw the biggest increases with visits up an average of 77 percent. (See Figure C.)

Figure C.
Year-over-year Increase Visits per Day  by Region”Weeks 1 & 2 of July 2020

COVID-19 Urgent Care Visits Per Day - Year over Year
During the second two weeks of July, visit volume was up across the country by an average of 54%.

Urgent Care Testing Trends

The lack of testing resources and PPE for urgent care significantly affected the industry response to the outbreak from March through May. Because urgent care was not identified as a point of care by federal, state, and local officials, many clinics were challenged to source their own supplies. In response, urgent care operators got creative by sourcing supplies from local hardware stores, building contractors, and directly from China.

As testing resources became more widely available, more urgent care centers were able to offer testing services. As of late May, clinics were offering both infectious agent detection and antibody testing. Since mid-April, the percent of clinics testing for COVID-19 increased from 47 percent to nearly 80 percent at the end of July. (See Figure D.)

Figure D.
COVID-19 Testing by Category

Urgent Care COVID-19 Testing by Category
At the end of July, nearly 80 percent of urgent care clinics were participating in COVID-19 testing for infection or antibodies. *Data courtesy of UCA

As visit volume continues to rise, COVID-19 testing and care is contributing approximately 50 percent of total visit volume for half of all urgent cares participating in the survey. (See Figure E.)

Figure E.
COVID-19 Testing per Percent of Visit Volume

COVID-19 Testing per Percent of Visit Volume
For more than half of the urgent care operations surveyed, COVID testing or care accounts for approximately 50 percent of all visits. *Data courtesy of UCA

Telemedicine as an Alternative to Face-to-Face Visits

Early in the pandemic, Experity developed and deployed a free app with telemedicine functionality to help centers identify risk and direct patients to their best option for testing and treatment. An article published in the Wall Street Journal outlined Experity’s commitment to providing the field with the necessary resources. (Download the full Urgent Care Quarterly to read the article in its entirety.)

“We reverted to startup mode and that allowed us to rapidly develop our COVID-19 response and telemedicine app. Experity’s product team worked with its dozens of software engineers to build these products while working remotely.” ” Dr. David Stern, Experity CEO

While telemedicine services were initially considered a viable alternative to face-to-face visits to reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure, only one percent of urgent care visits were virtual visits as of late July.

COVID-19 Operational Trends

Urgent Care Operational Response and Supply Availability

Not surprisingly, urgent care operations were nimble in their response to deliver parking lot testing and designate clinics to deal exclusively with COVID-19 testing and care. Clinics that were able to quickly set a strategic response for testing, and effectively communicate this option to the public, soon realized unexpectedly high responses and accelerated visit volume.

The Urgent Care Association (UCA) conducted a weekly survey to assess and share data regarding the COVID-19 response in the urgent care industry from March 30 through May 20. The following data is provided with their permission.

According to UCA survey results, supplies began to shrink during April across all categories and were acutely scarce during the last week of April. (See Figure F.)

Figure F.
PPE Insufficiency by PPE Category

COVID-19 PPE Insufficiencies by PPE Category
Resources for protective equipment declined quickly throughout the first six weeks of the pandemic. Procedure masks were the least accessible PPE item for urgent care clinics, followed by face shields/other eye protections and hand sanitizer. *Data courtesy of UCA

At Experity, we believe that good data helps urgent care leaders better understand the state of the industry. In the Urgent Care QuarterlyThe Pandemic Issue, Experity provides industry benchmarks and relevant data around urgent care’s response to COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, Experity is committed to helping urgent cares navigate the path ahead with data that represents their reality—and solutions that are built for urgent care.

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