Despite having played a huge role in public health crises in the past, urgent care’s cruciality in the context of public health and mass healthcare access was demonstrated and solidified by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Previously, urgent cares were largely filling regional and local care gaps, but as the global health crisis has overflowed U.S. ERs over the past two years, a new level of reliance emerged. The country has since realized that many care needs, whether urgent or routine, could be met at a local clinic and through a modern consumer-centric experience. By collectively adapting to unprecedented, rapid changes and scaling to effectively deliver care to millions of Americans during the pandemic, urgent care’s performance cemented its role as a primary access point of the healthcare system, changing the industry’s perception of the on-demand care market and the way consumers seek care forever.
With a dramatically growing demand for urgent care services — fueling the market’s growth rate at a CAGR of 4.66% from 2019 to 2026, according to one report — the industry has accepted the role of advancing on-demand, accessible care, in all its forms, for the masses. Now and moving forward, clinics must evolve their businesses to meet consumer expectations and needs to succeed in this new era of on-demand care.
Consider three business strategies for urgent care’s continued success.
1. Invest in accessibility, thoughtfully assessing opportunities to open new clinics in the same, or new, communities.
Concerns around care access and health disparities came to the forefront during the pandemic. The Chartis Center For Rural Health reports that 135 rural hospitals have closed in the past decade and more than 450 are now vulnerable to closure. This is concerning given EDs are the primary and often only care access point for a fifth of Americans and knowing numerous groups receive disproportionately high primary care through EDs, including Black and Latino individuals, immigrants, individuals experiencing homelessness, lower incomes and the uninsured.
Additionally, as large retail clinic chains like CVS close hundreds of locations, more people face challenges to access and afford traditional care sites or lack the means for virtual care. Urgent cares can continue to pop up as convenient, accessible care sites for all communities to help bridge the access gap.
The current landscape presents a prime time for prospective and existing urgent care owners to assess the overall health of their clinic(s) and explore opportunities to grow their footprint in current or new communities. According to 2021 industry research generated by my company, Experity, (based on data from 5,000 clinics, or roughly half of the U.S. urgent care market), first-year revenue for a new U.S. urgent care clinic averaged $1.1 million in 2019 and $1.6 million in 2020. In 2021, clinics are estimated to have reached $2.3 million. Additionally, the startup ramp for new clinic profitability is the fastest it’s ever been, historically taking nine months, but today, clinics are becoming profitable in just two. Urgent cares have a significant dual-opportunity to grow business revenue while also serving as an invaluable care access point for the masses.
2. Optimize business operations and capacity with industry-specific technology.
Data shows that urgent cares are continuing to experience higher than usual volumes of both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19-related visits. According to Experity research, clinics were seeing 58 patients each day on average as of August 2021, and daily visits at U.S. clinics have more than doubled since the three-year historic average pre-Covid-19. Current trends suggest that visit volume will continue climbing as long as clinics can unlock more capacity to see more daily patients.
To ensure your clinic can manage climbing volumes, assess the efficiency of your clinic’s operations, identify opportunities for improvement and strategically leverage technology to reach those goals. It’s important that urgent cares use technology that is purpose-built for their unique, flexible business model, from electronic medical records (EMR) to practice management, patient engagement, revenue cycle management and performance analysis. Utilizing industry-specific technology and industry benchmark data can help clinics stay competitive, streamline end-to-end operations wherever possible and achieve peak efficiency and patient flow.
3. Strategically expand clinic offerings to meet more needs with new service lines.
The pandemic advanced healthcare consumerism when it comes to expectations for experience and convenience, attracting more patients than ever to seek care from local clinics. Research from Experity supports this notion: revealing that 48% of total urgent care visits in 2020 were from new patients, which was largely driven by Covid-19 testing. However, since then, many of these new patients have returned for non-Covid-19 visits, signaling a long-term change in consumer behavior and the opportunity for clinics to serve a wider range of needs.
As urgent care continues to gain popularity and scale nationally, clinics should look to expand their service offerings beyond the traditional scope of episodic care to serve more needs and incorporate new revenue sources.
This often includes occupational medicine or primary care services. A Kaiser study found that as of 2018, one-fourth of adults and nearly half of adults under 30 had no primary care doctor. This gap presents an opportunity for urgent cares to provide high-touch primary care services as one segment of their offerings. By figuring out how to provide primary care services more quickly and conveniently, clinics can serve as the on-demand, or “light” model of primary care.
Research done by Experity in 2021 shows that 72% of the 5,000 clinics surveyed plan to add service lines. For the 28% of clinics that have no current expansion plans, this business move will likely become of interest as they begin to see the benefits being experienced by expanding clinics in 2022 and beyond.
The U.S. urgent care industry is growing at a stunning rate as the market’s popularity increases and as clinics continue driving nationwide healthcare access. Moving forward, I expect to see clinics invest in their operations and experience, expand offerings and open more locations as we collectively march, with intention, toward the goal of fueling the future of accessible, on-demand healthcare.