6 Steps to Position Your Practice to Accept Urgent Care Patients

Lea Chatham September 8th, 2014

1 Comment Latest by COMMENTOR NAME

Tweet This Kareo StoryBy Nathaniel Arana

Noticed a drop in the number of patients coming to you for simple consultations or same-day care—flu vaccines, minor infections, or a sprain? Retail clinics may be to blame.


Retail clinics like those offered by Walgreens, CVS/Caremark, and Walmart have emerged as a solution for patients who need to be seen quickly for relatively minor injuries or illnesses but who can’t get an immediate appointment with their primary care physician (PCP).

It’s a skyrocketing business. A recent study shows that the number of patients using retail clinics for preventive services, screenings, and chronic visits jumped from 4% in 2007 to 17% in 2013. With the backing of multibillion dollar corporations, retail clinics could very well transform the way healthcare is delivered in the United States.

The reason patients turn to these clinics is straightforward: It’s much more convenient. Patients can get a same-day appointment or walk in without one. They are seen quickly—most often in less than 30 minutes. As a general rule, patients trust their PCPs more than retail physicians, and would prefer to see them for urgent care. But the hassle of waiting days or weeks for an appointment makes retail clinics the easier option, especially for patients who aren’t feeling well.

In order for PCPs to regain their patients, they must set up their practices to provide urgent care. The following are relatively simple operational changes that PCPs can make to avoid losing patients—and revenue—to retail clinics.

  1. Make time in your schedule to accommodate same-day appointments. Designate one to three 10-minute time slots for urgent-care appointments. To accommodate patients’ schedules, it is best to spread these throughout the day (9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m., for example).
  2. Have your urgent-care patients seen quickly. Most urgent-care visits take less than five minutes. Many of these visits can even be handled by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant if you have one on staff. It is important that these patients don’t wait longer than 30 minutes. Remember, you are competing against retail clinics that offer convenience.
  3. Manage your schedule strategically. If your office typically runs late, set your urgent-care time slots for times of the day when you are least likely to be behind schedule (for example, the first appointment of the day or immediately after lunch).
  4. Market aggressively. Don’t assume that your patients know you offer urgent-care services or that they can book same-day appointments. Post a sign in your waiting room and train your front-office staff to inform patients that you offer urgent-care services. Make a handout with a list of conditions that can be treated. Communicate to your patients that they can typically be seen within 30 minutes. Make sure this information is on your website and posted to your social channels (i.e., Facebook).
  5. Provide 24/7 Online Appointment Scheduling. The benefit of online scheduling is two-fold. First, patients can schedule an appointment with you at 9 pm in the evening for first thing tomorrow morning, which adds another level of accessibility and convenience. Second, if you use a service like ZocDoc you may be able to reach more patients looking for an urgent-care appointment and grow your practice. According to ZocDoc about 85% of the patients who schedule appointment with local physicians through their service are new patients.
  6. Offer to accept cash. For patients without insurance, create a reasonable cash-pay rate that is similar to retail clinics in your area—the typical range is $90 to $125. Communicate to your patients that they can see you, a trusted provider, for a similar rate that they would pay at a retail clinic.

Although retail medicine can help fill a gap, it’s bad medicine to have them replace primary care practices altogether. Tweet this Kareo story
Given their success in offering urgent care, retail clinics have now begun to offer treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. But for the most effective treatment, chronic conditions require continuity of care, and retail clinics tend to have high turnover among providers. This is just another reason why it is important for PCPs to retain their patients and find ways to meet their changing needs.

It’s not only good business, but also good medicine to accommodate your patients’ urgent-care needs.

Share your thoughts about the impact of retail clinics and solutions for PCPs in the comments below.

About the Author

nathaniel_headshotNathaniel Arana is nationally recognized healthcare business consultant. A physicians’ advocate, he has helped numerous practices become more profitable by allowing his clients to focus on patient care. You can e-mail Nathaniel at nathaniel@ngahealthcare.com or visit his website at www.ngahealthcare.com.



1 Comment »

    Albie Cardew said:

    Scheduling often is the biggest hitch when trying to see same day patients from urgent care clinics. However, urgent cares cannot often provide the same care larger health care practices can, which could end up harming the patient. The tip about scheduling appointment slots generally for potential urgent care patients will make seeing and treating them much more possible and easy.

    Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 9:32 am

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