One of the most impressive things that urgent care leaders did in 2020 was quickly pivot to accommodate a record number of patients. Using both technology and ingenuity, they recreated processes to meet patient needs efficiently and safely. They truly proved their ability to be on-demand.
As we move into a new era of urgent care, the challenge is to remain a valued resource 365 days a year. Leaders need to continue their forward thinking to stay relevant. Today’s clinic needs to be built for efficiency and patient safety with the mindset of acquiring and retaining new patients. By using the latest technology and leveraging what you learned in 2020, you can future-proof your clinic and your patient experience.
Historically, seeing 40 or more patients a day put a strain on resources, with the industry average being around 30. But in the last year and a half, 20 percent of urgent care centers saw over 100 patients a day, and 50 percent of clinics averaged almost 50 visits per day.
While summer numbers have leveled out to around 40 patients a day, we know that this will go up. Both school and flu season are ahead of us, and we anticipate a potential uptick in COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant becomes more widespread.
The need for efficiency cannot be overstated. Smooth workflows and time-saving tools will not only help you get patients in and out more quickly, but also reduce stress and burnout for staff. And the opportunities to be more efficient today are better than ever. Here is what modern clinics are doing.
Patient engagement (PE) technology has come a long way, providing measurable benefits for patients and staff alike. Allowing patients to reserve and view their spot in line does several things:
You can also let patients fill out their registration information and upload necessary documents like ID and insurance cards. This will drastically reduce check-in time at the clinic, and improve accuracy.
Similar to making a reservation, getting in a virtual line tremendously helps with wait psychology and wait time. Patients can see the wait in real time and decide whether to choose another clinic, wait at home, or wait in their car. They can even join a line the night before to secure a spot that works well for them the next day. Knowing exactly how long the wait is — and planning when to show up based on that — can give patients a perception of zero wait. This technology gives patients a better experience and gives your staff better visibility into patient volume.
While the above comes from PE technology, your EMR should also be saving you steps. But it is most efficient when it is built specifically for urgent care and integrates with your PE and other technology. An EMR that supports the nuances of urgent care will truly help you save time charting, speed up your workflow, improve accuracy, and ultimately — drive revenue.
Hiring scribes can significantly speed up your process. Dr. Chirag Patel, CMO of Central Jersey Urgent Care, stated in an Experity webinar that his scribes increase productivity of clinicians by up to 25 percent. Scribes empower the speed of an EMR and give providers more time to spend more time with patients.
High patient volumes increase the number of needed staff. But your physical environment can only hold so many people. A solution that is especially efficient for urgent cares with numerous clinics is a remote front desk team. They can confirm next day appointments, check people in, and help with pre-registration. Having this done offsite frees up space in your clinic, optimizes MA workflows, and reduces time in the waiting room. What’s more is this one team can be load-shared across all centers.
COVID-19 precautions made people hyper-aware of germ exchange. We are more conscientious of what we touch and our hygiene practices. Our “new normal” will minimize a lot of old social expectations like shaking hands and going to the office when sick.
So even when COVID-19 is not our biggest concern, patients will be extra wary of coming into contact with other people’s germs. While you may know that you’re keeping your clinic clean, you also need patients to see and feel that you are protecting them. A modern clinic should provide these four things:
There’s no better sense of protection against communicable diseases than to not encounter any. While you can have people wait in their vehicles, that does not account for patients who walk, bike, bus, or catch a ride to your clinic. Using an online scheduling or queuing system is the best way to minimize the number of people in your waiting room. And when you can’t keep it empty, maintain waiting room layouts that offer safe distances between patients
Put quality air purifiers in every treatment room, and make sure they are visible to patients. These will cycle out air within minutes, protecting staff and patients against airborne particles.
You probably already had cleansing wipes, hand sanitizer, and disposable masks available to patients before COVID-19. Know that these are expected parts of the physical environment now, so be sure that they are visible and accessible in a way that does not compromise safety (e.g. walking through a line of people.)
Digital transactions are not only faster, but simply expected. However, patients are sharing a lot of sensitive information with you. While your software should protect this information, tokenization is another step you can take to safely add contactless processes. Tokenization lets you get credit cards on file — which also protects your AR.
As COVID-19 testing wanes, it’s important to supplement your revenue with other types of visits. Many clinics treated sky-high numbers of new patients in 2020. Retaining these and other new patients can give you some control over — and protection against — unpredictable lulls. Which not only helps your revenue, but keeps your staff busy enough to stay on so you don’t have to hire and train new people during busy times.
Above anything else, you must impress your patients with a positive experience from start to finish if you want to attract new patients and persuade them to come back. We discussed some PE tools in chapter one, and we also have an eBook dedicated to the topic.
Under the umbrella of modernization, you must think about the entire patient journey. Here is a summary of considerations for your PE solutions and strategies:
Adding new revenue streams can provide a steady source of new patients and increase the likelihood that your COVID-19 patients return for other on-demand services. We explain some benefits and ways to incorporate OccMed and primary care in this blog.
To dive more deeply into the actual process of adding one of these business lines to your urgent care, we look back on the advice that two experts shared in our emerging trends webinar.
Omid Akbari, Executive Director of East County Urgent Care in San Diego, California, said that OccMed accounts for 50 percent of business at this facility. He explained some notable differences between the approach to OccMed versus urgent care.
Claudio Varga, Director of Operations at Vital Urgent Care in Newport Beach, California, spoke to the primary/urgent care hybrid model. He identified some nuances in doing both.
Get your acquired new patients from 2020 back in the door
According to Experity data, 50% more new patients visited urgent care clinics in 2020 than in previous years. This is your opportunity to leverage your PE technology and patient data to communicate special offers, services, and other reasons to come back.
As we discuss in this blog, email marketing is a powerful tool to stay connected with those new patients you acquired and welcome them back. Tell people about a new or existing service they may not know you provide. Remind them of annual physicals. Show them a blog that can help them with self-care. These help you continue your relationship and stay top of mind for their next urgent care need.
You can also communicate special offers. Varga shared in our webinar on emerging trends in urgent care that big promotional offers get a lot of attention. “I’m a big believer that if you’re going to do a promotion, go big or go home. Don’t so something like our TB tests are 40 dollars, and we’re going to do them for 30. No. We’re going to do them for five bucks.”
For Varga, what made this promotion exceptionally successful was going beyond email marketing. You can reach both brand new and acquired new patients with a pay-per-click campaign. “Right in the headline, you can say ‘TB Test Five Dollars’…and people would call in and say, ‘is that true, are you really doing them for five dollars?’ Yeah! Come on in; here’s our address!”
So getting your acquired new patients to come back should be a combined effort of targeted marketing to your email lists and also your broader marketing efforts, because those are showing up in front of that audience, too. You can read more about retaining patients through online marketing in our eBook How to Adapt to Meet Patient Demands in the New Era of Urgent Care.
No matter what you do to future-proof your clinics, it’s important to be adaptable and able to pivot quickly. We learned from COVID-19 that change can be instantaneous, and the best way to combat volatility is to know what is happening in your community.
Get engaged in community organizations like local government. Also, be aware of what is around you. Are there a lot of employers in the area? A thriving geriatric community? Is this a hotspot for Lyme or other diseases? When you understand the population, you can better tailor your clinic to serve them and their unique needs.
Overall, patients expect high-tech, service-first care, on their schedule. By modernizing with technology and smart partnerships, you can optimize your clinic to thrive in this new era of urgent care.