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You’ve mastered the basics and you’re ready to up your urgent care game. In this eBook you’ll get expert tips on everything from marketing to building patient trust and staff training.
As opposed to hospitals or primary care, urgent cares are dependent on consistent walk-in patients to drive success. Therefore, choosing your clinic’s physical location—based on proximity to competitors—is one of the most important decisions you can make. Nearly as important is marketing your urgent care to the correct audience.
Marketing may seem like a task that is secondary to operational needs. The opposite is true. Marketing needs to be a primary focus if your urgent care is to succeed financially. A forward-thinking budget will have a line item for marketing. In reality, you can have the best staff and medical equipment in the area—and no patients to serve because they don’t know about you.
Urgent cares can fail because they don’t invest in the power of marketing.
According to the Urgent Care Association’s 2019 Benchmarking Survey, the mean annual marketing budget per site is around $48,000, equating to about 3.3% of expenses being allocated to marketing. This percentage should increase for those in the startup phase.
Not only is money needed for marketing, so is strategy. Marketing requires you to know and reach the specific patient demographic you want to treat.
Here are some tried-and-true marketing ideas we’ve seen be successful for others in the industry—and that your urgent care should consider:
Actually, this isn’t an idea. This is a good general rule of thumb. All your marketing material—ads, brochures, website, printed pieces, promotional items—should have a consistent brand. Your brand name and logo should be clear and easy to read. Inconsistent brand identity (look and feel) is the equivalent of changing your business’s personality. It confuses your patients.
Careful consideration should be given to your brand name. Changing it later can be a painful—and often costly—process. If your urgent care is part of an umbrella organization, ensure you’re meeting the brand standard they have set.
Be conscious of not being too clever with naming and branding; this can cause misunderstanding as to what you do. People put trust in a brand, so correct use of branding is vital to building and maintaining respect.
Brand identity is more than a name and logo. A brand is how your patients think of you. How are you standing out from the competition? Differentiation is key to having people remember you. Be unique at your clinic; offer something that others don’t have. Valet services, movies in the waiting room, or personal consultations upon arrival can make your urgent care memorable and will drive more referrals.
For all the expensive, glossy marketing items out there, nothing is more effective for urgent cares than being involved in the local community. Grassroots marketing efforts can be easily done, are cost effective, and will be seen as a more genuine approach to reach potential patients in your neighborhood.
Ideas for community involvement can be sponsorship of events, such as sports, health activities, or other local functions. You can also participate in—and donate to—local fundraisers and charities. School and college event sponsorship can also be effective if you serve a younger demographic.
Build strong relationships with local businesses if you do workers’ compensation or occupational medicine.
Host open houses, conduct a local flu shot clinic or sports physical camp, or invite area leaders to visit and tour your facility. Join your local chamber of commerce—and, contrary to popular belief, it’s wise to develop relationships with other local providers and medical organizations, so you can easily share referrals as needed.
Want to save money on ads, but get your name out on radio or TV? Developing relationships with local media can be a great way to achieve this.
Knowing your local news (TV and radio) and being in contact with area reporters can give you a channel to spread your urgent care’s name. Have a new provider join the staff? Add a new service that you want to share? Get the news out and ask for an interview from the media.
Keep a list of media contacts, and assign a staff member to send them ideas. Appoint a main point of contact at your clinic for media, so you can control your message. Another inventive way to get airtime is to do a medical segment for local media. Your providers or nursing staff can provide relevant or seasonal health tips in a short segment for TV or radio to get your name out.
Don’t forget to send stories to local newspapers. If you write your own press releases for events—and explain the importance to the area—media will be more likely to share them. Similar to Idea 3, sponsorships and donations can also garner press attention and build a favorable impression.
Urgent care is typically seen as a one-off visit, so how do you increase patient visits to sustain your clinic? It’s true that immediate care situations are unpredictable. But what is predictable is how you treat patients.
If they have a good experience, they will share this information with their network of connections. And if they require your services again, they will return—whether for another incident or for a follow-up visit.
To help encourage your satisfied patients, offer a referral program with special discounts or promotions. Partner with local businesses to offer usable, desirable promotions.
For example, for a certain number of people referred, you could offer a thank you card together with a gift certificate to a local restaurant or health club. Membership programs with your employees and their families are another way to build your patient base.
Employers are also increasingly offering their own membership programs in which employees can pay a flat monthly fee to be seen at certain clinics. This type of program can be similar to occupational medicine and workers’ compensation offering, in which employers send employees to you on a contract basis.
Transit, or outdoor advertising, is the highest ranked marketing tactic for perceived effectiveness by urgent cares.1
Your urgent care logo design plays largely into this point. Whether you’re in a building with other businesses or you have your own practice, it’s crucial that your clinic is in a high traffic area. Being in a convenient location—and having clear signage—will make your clinic easy to spot for when your services are needed.
Another misstep is making signage so small it can’t be read from the road or by passing traffic. Having easy-to-read text and colors that stand out from the background is vital.
Other suggestions include signs that are lit at night, and display hours of operation—along with phone and website—in a prominent place.
Today, your urgent care is judged by its online presence as much as it is by its physical appearance. Similar to how clean and modern facilities earn trust from patients, so too does a professional website. The fact is, you are considered a more legitimate practice with a well-designed website. A website is a 24/7/365 advertising tool to help patients find you so they can learn about your clinic.
While it’s recommended you have a marketing professional create a website, you can manage content yourself if your website comes with a content management system (CMS).
If you have a blog option, you can post helpful articles relevant for your patients—or even have them sign up for a digital newsletter that you create. Online marketing offers many opportunities.
Social media is another way to reach your audience (remember to connect all social media accounts to your website). As with Idea 2, you can use social media to build relationships with local businesses and partner together for joint promotion.
Paid advertising (pay per click) on other local websites can drive traffic to your website. Another way to spread your clinic name is to encourage patients to review your clinic on sites like Google and Yelp. In addition to the Yellow Pages, make sure your urgent care is a registered Google Place—so your name will appear in local online search results.
Marketing is a wide mix. TV, radio, print, online, referrals, brochures, online ads— the list is endless on what avenues your urgent care can try. Marketing can be overwhelming, and you might be tempted to try everything to be safe. But the only thing less effective than no marketing is marketing with no strategy. The best way to market is to first determine who your target market is and then choose ways to reach those patients accordingly.
One of the jobs of marketing is to educate the audience.
As walk-in urgent care clinics are a fairly new offering, it’s important to show patients the differences between your services and those of emergency rooms. With a more educated public, patients will make informed decisions on where to receive health treatment.
While many urgent cares handle marketing themselves to save money, it’s true that some forms of marketing are more effective if done by professionals—such as a marketing agency or qualified freelancers.
If you hire out marketing services, ask for references from other clients—and choose marketers who are familiar with healthcare. If you do marketing in house, be strategic about who does it and what marketing efforts you focus on, especially if staff is already doing multiple tasks.
Make marketing work for you by planning for it in your annual budget, by having a strategic plan to follow, and by assigning staff or a marketing agency to help.
Applying the marketing ideas listed above will help jumpstart your efforts or refine your current tactics. With all the efforts your urgent care is doing, how will you know what’s truly effective?
The best way to track marketing is to consistently ask your patients how they heard about you.
(1) Urgent Care Association of America. (2012)
Urgent Care Benchmarking Study
(2) Bessley, Caron. (2012)
How to Set a Marketing Budget that Fits Your Business Goals and Provides a High Return on Investment
For all the planning you do, it’s the patient that’s the central focus of your efforts. It makes sense then to design your urgent care clinic and services around the patient. After all, urgent care is a delivery model based on the idea that patients deserve the proper treatment at the exact time they need it.
Take this patient-centric theory into your entire practice. Here are a few ways to make your physical clinic building and service options more patient-centered:
Make registration as fast and painless as possible. Your patient is already under a ton of stress with an unplanned injury or illness. Offer online check-in so your patient can register before they get to your clinic. Consider having a greeter at the door to direct the patient and help fill out registration forms.
Provide a queue number so they know what number they are—and how long it will be to see a provider. In-office check-in should take minutes.
Your patient is scared and in pain. A friendly and efficient receptionist is vital to a patient’s overall experience. Speed and assurance need to be portrayed. Be deliberate with the personality types you place in this position. Also, have a more open, non-walled area to speak to the receptionist. Don’t forget name tags for all staff.
Choose soothing lighting when building your clinic. Try to incorporate natural light with windows, where appropriate. Pick deliberate colors and decoration for relaxation.
Keep the lobby area up to date with proper furnishings and equipment. For clinics that treat pediatrics, offer child-friendly distractions.
Provide enough seating for approximately three times the number of patients you anticipate. Most patients are accompanied by family or friends. Patients in pain don’t wish to sit in the open; arrange seats that offer privacy. A corner for children also keeps noise at a minimum for others. Offer a private (or semi-private) area for registration, so patients can relay private information out of earshot of other waiting patients. Make sure you maximize space while keeping a clear path for traffic flow.
Offer convenience for comfort. Plan your clinic to be near public transport. Offer phones and Wi-Fi directly in the waiting room. Have calming music or televisions turned on appropriately calming channels. Consider having beverage options—a coffee bar, vending machines, or light food available. Keep rooms a comfortable temperature.
If your patient has to move rooms or stations for treatment, have clear signage in the exam room about where to go—or escort patients directly to where they need to go. Getting lost in the clinic during treatment causes more unneeded anxiety on top of the present situation. Also, have clear signs in hallways for exits, the waiting room, and rest rooms.
Keep this to a minimum, and have the nurse be clear about how long the provider will be. Nothing is worse than sitting in an exam room, and not knowing when you’ll be seen. Explain who the provider is, offer a bio sheet or other intro information if possible. Give patients a way to write down questions for the provider while waiting.
Calm fears by explaining exam steps as they happen, from taking vitals through the actual exam. Each of your staff can help with this—from your nurse, to x-ray or lab techs, to the provider. Taking away the unknown can be enough to help the patient face reality and know what’s coming. Also, outline EMR documentation steps with the patient. Comforting words of how you’ve seen and handled similar cases can also help.
Offer immediate discharge for insured patients by collecting co-pays during registration. Be clear if the patient needs to check out at the front desk before leaving. Make it easy for cash patients; be transparent with fees so they are prepared. Consider offering online payment options and payment plans to give patients more ways to pay when your office is closed.
Provide at-home care instructions, in either digital or printed form, upon discharge. An EMR can offer templates with accurate instructions for care, which providers can modify to their preference.
Save time by sending scripts to pharmacies digitally, so the patient can have drugs filled on the way home. Have common medications on hand so the patient doesn’t have to make an extra stop.
Quickly refer patients to another physician for follow-up appointments, therapy, or recovery treatments. Ask if you can schedule a follow-up appointment with another practice for the patient. Also, keep primary care physicians (if the patient has one) in the loop of patient care by forwarding their medical history.
Many clinics now offer secure, HIPAA-compliant patient portals. Patients can view (and reply to) messages directly from providers. They can also view follow-up instructions, review lab results, and check on prior invoices. Remember to schedule a friendly follow-up phone call as well.
Give patients the chance to give you feedback to improve your process. Most unhappy patients take this avenue in a public place such as online reviews. Find out how you are doing first, by asking for honest feedback after the patient visit—and by giving patients an easy way to complete a survey regarding service and facilities.
Want to make your clinic more patient centered? Put yourself in your patients’ shoes. Make convenience your guide when making decisions. In the end, if you make the patient the focus of your mission, your urgent care will flourish.
Improving your urgent care is a continuous goal, whether bettering processes, training staff, or adding services for patients.
Pinpointing ways to streamline your clinic’s workflow is a good way to ensure constant improvement—especially as new healthcare changes take effect. Meaningful Use Stage 2 and ICD-10 are two large changes that will affect how you document patient visits.
While you’re looking at accommodating these changes in your workflow, why not also look at your entire urgent care workflow process?
Here are a few ideas to streamline your urgent care workflow:
Only by observing current workflow can you begin to make it better. Document and assess the most common patient visit types in your clinic. Figure out where you stand first before making any changes.
Remember to involve all departments with audits as well. Armed with evidence, you can more accurately apply observation-based, beneficial changes to workflow steps.
Everyone in the clinic has a role to play—from the front desk staff to providers. Like a well-directed play on stage, each role needs to be defined and filled by a star for success. Combining or separating roles, creating up-to-date job descriptions, and conducting regular personnel assessments are all ways to make sure you have the right people in the right place.
There’s always something new to learn, whether with changes in practice techniques or EMR/PM training. Offer training opportunities so your staff can continuously improve. (And we’re not just talking about cross training, which is also important.) Provide online and off-site opportunities for staff to discuss ideas, learn skills, and listen to others.
With MU Stage 2 and ICD-10, hands-on training will be what makes your transition to each of these areas a success. (Check out AHIMA ICD-10 Training.)
Re-examine your service hours and test adding or removing hours to see what’s the most profitable for you. Consider having a floating personnel schedule if you don’t already, so if volume increases, you have back up staff (either on-call or from another clinic location).
Look at your urgent care’s trends last year for a guide for scheduling and hiring for next year.
You’re probably thinking “We’ve cut everything we can.” While you may have a refined workflow, there’s always a way to cut more. Be ruthless. Look at every single step. Could online check-in cut the front desk paper work? Are you using paper in any step that your EHR has options for? Can your patients pay online to reduce patient phone calls (and collect more)?
Now that every step in your workflow has passed the necessary test, it’s time to look at how to make the remaining steps smoother. Can hand-offs between nurses and providers be better? If a procedure is done, can documentation be done quicker? Are lab and x-ray results imported directly and automatically into your chart? Have you refined your EHR’s templates and discharge plans?
Occ med is predictable, so make these visits quick. Having employer info, forms, and visit instructions (protocols) in your EHR system—and not filling out necessary paper work by hand—will save you valuable time. Workers’ comp visits involve on-the-job injuries, but you can still be prepared by using your EHR and PM system to send documentation to pertinent parties automatically.
Be willing to continuously examine ways to improve. Encourage staff to give input on areas where they think time could be saved—or a step could be completed more efficiently. Listen to their ideas and be willing to try new steps as new technology and processes emerge.
Refining clinical workflow can take time and requires a commitment to improvement. True, it can be a little painful, but the results are worth it.
Think of your workflow as a diamond being polished and cut into a fine gem. Getting rid of the flaws will make a better finished product, both for your staff and patients.
(1) Stantz, Renee. (2011)
Billing for non-credentialed providers.
(2) The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2012)
Medicare Claims Processing Manual
How do urgent cares build strong patient relationships in a fast-paced environment? Empathy is one way. Although urgent care’s bread and butter is speed, efficiency, and a streamlined visit process, that doesn’t mean care and concern should be an afterthought.
Empathy is especially important as patients are more likely to choose a doctor because of a personal experience. In fact, a positive personal experience is 2 ½ times more important to patients than to consumers in other industries1. Your clinic may see ten to twenty patients a day with the same ailment or injury, but it’s likely the very first time the patient has ever gone through the experience.
Here are a few ways to put yourself in your patients’ shoes and add empathy to your patients’ experience:
Test your clinic. Audit workflow and staff reactions by running through a spontaneous patient scenario.
Lead by example. Care is contagious and multiplies through others. Show consistent daily concern for patients and employees.
Unlike primary care physicians, urgent care staff are generally unknown. Put pictures, bios, or videos on your website to help patients prepare for whom they’ll meet.
Not knowing is scary. Clearly outline the visit step by step and the follow-up process so patients know what’s coming.
Some patients just need to talk. Lending your ear and giving direct eye contact builds patient-doctor trust.
Show vulnerability. Nothing connects faster than saying that you know how it feels.
Explain exam steps, show how you document information with the technology you use, and how you arrived at the diagnosis and action plan.
Good word-of-mouth is vital in your community. Ask for feedback on how you’re doing.
The patient experience doesn’t end with the visit. Assign someone to check up on progress.
How empathetic is your urgent care clinic? The ideas above are just scratching the surface of meeting the needs of the patient experience.
Providing a consistent quality of patient care at your urgent care clinic requires a long-term commitment by every single staff member—from providers to front-desk personnel.
You never know when a certain statement or action makes the difference to a patient giving your urgent care clinic a good or bad review. Patient reviews can dramatically affect others’ decisions on whether to choose your urgent care clinic over another.
Accidents and urgent care situations are unpredictable for your patients. But showing empathy is a consistent standard of care that will make your clinic the top choice for patients in your community.
(1) Cheung-Larivee, Karen. (2012)
What patients want in a hospital
In an on-demand healthcare environment, staff balance friendly customer service, speed, and quality care. Your employees are the heart of your clinic, and make the difference between an average patient experience—and a great one. From proper hiring to thorough training, managing all roles requires time investment by owners and management. Each staff member fills a meaningful role, and in urgent care, often several roles.
Here are a few tips from insider training experts who’ve seen what works in educating urgent care personnel.
If training is going to succeed, someone needs to be in charge of it. Assign someone to head up training. And create an out-lined training program. For new urgent cares, your checklist will include human resource needs, HIPAA and OSHA regulations, and technology and facility logistics. Start-up urgent cares should set out guidelines on how to address and greet patients, workflows based on scenarios, and policies to ensure consistent patient treatment.
Existing clinics should focus on an orientation plan (tip 4). Make training a priority by dedicating time and effort—along with resources of people and a plan. While an upfront cost, standardized training pays dividends in the daily running of the clinic.
It also helps with the smoothness and safety of the patient experience, and makes a more satisfying work environment for employees.
Training should be broken out by role, so each staff member can focus on their daily tasks. This should include both physical workflow steps, and also any other assigned duties—such as EMR entry, relaying of information, and lab or triage requirements.
Use fake patient scenarios to train employees, especially if you’re a start-up clinic. While the urgency of real life cannot be duplicated, the repetition of facing various scenarios can help prepare staff on how to handle real patients when the clinic doors open.
Hands-on practice with staff playing the role of fake patients, along with a paired, experienced mentor, can vastly improve new employee training as well.
Cross-training roles is also valuable. You don’t need to fully cross-train employees unless they will actually be doing other duties, but a general knowledge of what all the other roles in the clinic do will help each role know the cause and effect of their actions. Cross-training, especially for new employees, can help give them a bird’s eye view of daily operations.
Pitfalls with training can start in the hiring process. Urgent cares need to hire deliberately for every role. A common mistake is focusing hiring efforts on nurses and providers, while giving less thought and consideration to front desk and billing staff. While good clinicians are vitally needed, so are front desk personnel and billers, especially if your clinic cares about revenue.
In urgent care, customer service is as important as treatment—so hiring qualified, insurance-knowledgeable front desk staff will help improve the entire patient and billing process. Don’t think of front desk personnel as simply data entry people. They are the first impression of your clinic and are a big part of the health of your reimbursement.
Many urgent cares hire clinicians who’ve been in emergency care or family practice settings. Urgent care is uniquely different from both, being less stressful than the ER, but faster pace than a doctor’s office. Urgent care also often requires individuals to fill multiple roles, creating task diversity. Having clinicians with excellent bedside manner that can handle varying situations comfortably is ideal for the urgent care environment.
After your clinic is open, it’s important to create an orientation program for onboarding new staff.
Orientation ensures that all staff hold up the standard of care you expect in your clinic. Implement orientation in a way that makes the most sense for your new staff members. You can do group classes for new hires or onboard each new hire individually—depending on your hiring practices.
Orientation should begin before the staff member even starts working. Get new employees familiar with policies and workflow before they start. Assign education needs (logistics, software, etc.) for your clinic, along with human resource requirements, to begin the learning process right away.
Checklists for workflow steps help new staff get acclimated. Add a mentor to shadow new staff to ensure accurate practicing and to improve retention—then let staff practice on their own. Have a time frame to test new employees’ comprehension of standards, and offer positive reinforcement for efforts.
To ensure a solid foundation of knowledge in your staff, it’s important to appoint “champion” teachers in your urgent care. These champions are the go-to experts that new employees can rely on to know the answers to questions—whether those questions are about workflow, procedures and policies, or software and equipment knowledge.
Role champions are on the front lines of your daily clinic operations. Use these champions to share clinical updates and support consistent practices. Champions are more efficient than having all staff depend on one or two clinic managers for knowledge—and are more practical for support than just referring to training manuals. Be thoughtful when selecting champions for your clinic.
They don’t necessarily have to be the smartest or most tenured employees, but they should have an attitude of “go-getterness” and be willing and able to teach others.
Here’s a list of personality traits that we recommend for your role champions:
True, it’s difficult to teach to every individual learning style. Staff are simply too varied to teach skills exactly the way they’d like, but you can try to group learning styles together.
Traditionally, billers and front desk personnel like to be demonstrated to first—and then like to practice on their own.
Clinicians prefer hands-on learning, and being able to learn on the fly. Keep in mind everyone learns differently—and adapting teaching, even slightly, may help others pick up information just a little bit better. You never know what makes teaching “click” for others. Sometimes it’s sharing in a class format, or it could be when two peers explain something to each other. Try to offer a variety of ways for staff to learn. Videos, shadowing, demonstrations, manuals, and one-on-one support are all options. Encourage questions and create a supportive environment for learning and teamwork.
Urgent cares frequently hire part-timers, floating personnel, and moonlighters who may work at several other jobs. Because of intermittent staff, it can be difficult to relay changes after orientation.
It can also be hard to keep up with changes when staff may work at three or four healthcare organizations. While changes can be communicated through email, and staff can catch others doing steps the “old way”, the best way to ensure consistency is with regular workflow audits.
Another good practice when making workflow changes is to clarify the reasoning behind the change. Relate the update to the previous way it was practiced, and what it will look like in the future. This “entire picture” scenario will help staff be less resistant to changes, and help them understand why updates are beneficial.
After staff are hired and trained, they need to be trusted. You interviewed, vetted, did background checks, and ultimately hired them for a reason. After a set orientation and training period, they need to be able to grow.
If wise decisions are made in hiring and training, then the probability is your employees will be strong staff—and uphold your standards.
Not empowering staff to make healthcare decisions is prohibitive—to not only them, but also the patient’s well-being. If only leadership is allowed to make important calls, staff will get frustrated. And in urgent care, that leader might not always be in clinic to make that decision. Clarify what choices staff can make, and which should be approved by a manager.
Training urgent care staff is vital to ensuring the excellence of your clinic’s care. Standard practices and a clear training program ensure that your quality of care will always be high—no matter how many staff you hire or may change over time.
Current employees’ knowledge bases are essential for teaching new employees, so harness this power—along with any planned teaching efforts.
Remember, deliberate hiring for every role is the most important step to training success. The old adage of hire for personality and train skills is as true in urgent care as it is with any other business. Add training to enhance those individuals you’ve selected, and you’ll have a staff who makes your urgent care stand out from the competition.
Patients will notice the difference in treatment and choose your urgent care over the rest.
As on-demand care takes healthcare’s center stage, staying on top of technology, ongoing training, and patient engagement will help you elevate your urgent care practice. If you want more tips from the expert in urgent care, check out our other resources.