Four ways urgent care clinics can retain patients and seize growth opportunities | Adam Steinberg

Clinics must take new approaches to nurture the relationships they built during the pandemic and ensure they are delivering the experience that will encourage patients to return.

The role of urgent care in the broader healthcare landscape has become increasingly important over the past few decades but has become notably prominent following the COVID-19 public health emergency that solidified the need for, and value of, on-demand care for the masses.

As a result of the urgent care industry’s impressive ability to pivot during the pandemic and the influx of demand that came with it, urgent care providers are now faced with new, unprecedented growth opportunities.

With daily patient visit volumes reaching record highs at urgent cares across the country, clinics are learning how to not only accommodate this high demand and ensure care is accessible to all who need it, but to also ensure that patients return for future treatment beyond COVID-19 related care – as patient retention has become a top priority for the continuous growth and sustainability of urgent care businesses.

To make the most of these new patients and keep visit volume up, urgent care clinics must take new, strategic approaches to continue nurturing the relationships they built during the pandemic and ensure they are delivering the level of care quality and patient experience that will encourage patients to return.

To best capitalize on the opportunities now available to U.S. urgent care providers due to growing demand and visit volume, clinic leaders can explore a few key areas that can have the most significant impact on their clinics.

Identifying opportunities to strengthen operational foundations

Convenience and efficiency, while maintaining high quality, high velocity care, are fundamental to the success of urgent cares, as it is those core components that set them apart from all other providers in the healthcare ecosystem.

To effectively maintain these core components while managing high visit volumes, it is important to get back to basics to identify any operational inefficiencies that could deter a clinic’s performance. Solid operational foundations and standard operational procedures (SOPs) are a necessity for urgent care businesses to provide more patients with efficient and high-quality care.

SOPs, when developed comprehensively and followed tightly, ensure everyone working at a clinic is operating based on a formalized, coordinated process, which helps to reduce the risk of error and improve productivity, resulting in a higher quality care experience for a clinic’s growing number of patients. If SOPs are weak, owners and operators will feel the impact of that through slow throughput, staff burnout, poor patient satisfaction and other metrics.

SOPs must be extensive and cover every fundamental function that an urgent care practice performs, from blood draws to patient check-ins, billing processes, and more. All of these functions should have a procedure in place that is informed by industry best practices and understood and followed by the staff.

Taking the time to ensure every facet of an urgent care’s operation is functioning properly is essential to expand the practice and retain and grow the population of patients served, as it facilitates a clinic’s ability to deliver care as it was intended — high quality, with urgency.

Augment automation

When COVID-19-driven visit volumes were at their peak, the importance and value of automation became abundantly clear.

For urgent care practices, electronic medical record and practice management (EMR/PM) is the core software used to manage information, but when combined with integrated patient engagement solutions, for example, clinics can fully streamline the patient visit from first contact through discharge, helping to register patients, collect patient information, and document visits.

To boost staff efficiency, clinics must lean on vendor partners to ensure their platforms are updated, functioning properly and are being used optimally. Additionally, there are often numerous other opportunities waiting for clinics to simplify their workflows, remove complexities, and eliminate administrative burden through automation.

Today’s patients want a simpler, digitally enabled experience, and providers want more bandwidth back to focus on the patients that need care. Integrated automation solutions help to remove complexities, leading to better experiences, increased customer satisfaction, and bringing new patients back to urgent care practices for non-COVID related on-demand care.

Elevate patient engagement

Turning new patients into repeat patients is dependent upon providing them with high quality care and positive experiences. To maintain high visit volumes brought on by COVID-19, clinics must connect with patients before, during and after the visit to develop a foundation of trust using modern patient engagement technology that fully integrates EMR/PM software.

It is essential that urgent care clinics maximize their presence online, making their website easy to find and easy to navigate. The website should facilitate easy scheduling for an online visit, confidential messaging capabilities to follow up with test results, and should provide reviews from previous patients to help inform their decision as to where to receive care.

Once at the clinic, the patient's experience can be improved with transparency surrounding wait times. To effectively manage and report wait times, urgent cares should implement software solutions that assist in providing real-time updates for patients and staff, ensuring all patients awaiting an appointment are updated with the most accurate estimate based on their spot in line.

After the visit, to maintain the connection with the patient and let them know that their experience matters, clinics should collect feedback through a brief follow-up survey. This insight informs the clinic as to what procedures are, or are not, meeting the patient’s expectations and will allow clinics to make procedural changes if necessary.

Modern patient engagement technology that integrates EMR/PM software provides patients with enhanced capabilities, seamless online scheduling, registration, smart queues, text reminders, and more. An integrated patient engagement solution will help optimize the clinic’s efficiency, retain patients, and protect the clinic’s reputation, leading to more patient visits over time.

Strategically expand services to meet patient needs

Given the evolving role of urgent care in the healthcare landscape, it is time to expand upon the baseline services currently offered by most, if not all, clinics and provide the community with more of the services, care types, and resources it needs.

As more and more patients look to urgent care as their convenient, non-emergent care provider, integrating new, in-demand service lines like primary care functionality, occupational medicine services, or other specialties like physical therapy, along with convenient perks like extended hours, will support the attraction of new patients and retention of all patients by meeting more needs. Expanding the urgent care offering is key in building upon the momentum driven by the pandemic.

COVID-19 provided new insights into patient care, shifting the way clinics view and approach patient relationships. The increase in visit volumes and overall demand for accessible, convenient care has provided an unprecedented opportunity for urgent cares to prove themselves to new patients, drive repeat visits from new patients, and meet more needs for more patients moving forward.

Clinics will see success by identifying areas for added efficiency, more intelligently leveraging technology, and introducing new ways to meet the needs of more patients.

Adam Steinberg is executive vice president of customer experience at Experity