Hospitals look to urgent care ventures to boost presence, referrals
June 03, 2014 – Independent physicians who set up and own stand-alone clinics have historically driven growth in the urgent-care industry. But hospitals are increasingly turning to the model to help grow their footprint and boost referrals.
According to data gathered by the Urgent Care Association of America, hospitals now own about a quarter of the country’s 9,000 urgent-care clinics, up from a marginal presence just five years ago. Private physicians own slightly more than one third of clinics.
Independent and corporate-owned clinics are behind a regional boom in urgent openings in recent years, though several hospitals have gained traction in the industry. Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge opened its first urgent-care clinic at the intersection of Perkins Road and Siegen Lane a decade ago.
Chief executive Scott Wester said it was an experiment. The hospital saw an opportunity to offer patients more options and reduce crowds and costs in its emergency department, Wester said. But retail medicine and its emphasis on foot traffic was very new terrain, he said.
“Our motto back then was that you need to be close to Walgreens because Walgreens has the best locations,” Wester said, laughing.
The hospital now operates 12 clinics in the Baton Rouge area under the Lake After Hours name. Collectively, the clinics see more than 100,000 visits each year.
Our Lady of the Lake and several other hospitals under the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System partner with Baton Rouge-based management firm PremierHealth to operate an urgent-care clinic network. PremierHealth CEO Steve Sellars said hospitals are drawn to urgent care as a way to ensure patients with sore throats, colds and other minor cases get care without having to visit a crowded emergency room. That’s a priority as the federal health care law ties more financial incentives to quality of care and efficiency, he said.
But hospitals are not in the business of retail medicine, a reason why most turn to joint ventures to manage clinics, he said. “They’ve got a lot of competing priorities in a hospital,” Sellars said.
In addition to efficiency, Wester said, the urgent-care business offers a strong referral business as patients seek follow-up care.
Wester said the hospital keeps its urgent care operations separate from the rest of its operations, one reason he thinks it’s been able to grow. He said a separate board oversees Lake After Hours and has several members with experience in the retail and food service industries. Wester said that perspective has been valuable when deciding where to locate new clinics.
Wester said the urgent care business boils down to convenience. “We all have to admit as consumers we like it now and we don’t like to wait,” Wester said.
Our Lady of the Lake is working with sister hospitals to set up similar urgent care models across the Franciscan system. PremierHealth is also looking to export its expertise. The company is currently weighing joint ventures with hospitals in Florida and Tennessee.