Adapting to the Changing Urgent Care Landscape and Evolving Patient Behavior

By Dr. Benjamin Barlow, Chief Medical Officer, Experity
LinkedIn: Dr. Benjamin Barlow
X: @ExperityHealth

The urgent care industry has faced unprecedented challenges and opportunities in the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Urgent care (UC) clinics have seen fluctuations in visit volumes and changes in acuity of care against the backdrop of evolving patient expectations. To survive and thrive in this dynamic environment, urgent care leaders must take note of changes in patient behavior, collect and analyze data in creative ways, and revisit to the “basics,” refocusing on traditional urgent care offerings. UCs can support their operations amid these changes and capitalize on new opportunities by optimizing their performance metrics with clinical data.

Observing Changes in Patient Behavior

The urgent care industry proved its value through its adaptability and accessibility during the pandemic, which changed not only the way clinics chose to operate, but how patients choose to seek care. For better or worse, these changes have persisted. During the pandemic, many clinics shifted to become primarily (at times, solely) COVID testing sites and respiratory infection centers. While this was successful for business during the peak of the pandemic, clinics who adopted those limited models now lack flexibility and have seen a decline in patient visits as respiratory needs have become less frequent. Patients are now seeking care at emergency departments instead of visiting their local urgent care center. Urgent care clinics are now faced with the challenge of reminding patients they are not just COVID testing and respiratory treatment sites.

Visit volume numbers per clinic per day have significantly shifted from the heights of the pandemic, and recently have begun to stabilize. UC facilities that have been in operation for a while can compare visit volumes pre-pandemic with post-pandemic data to identify trends and make informed decisions for their business operations. According to data from the latest Urgent Care Quarterly report on benchmarking performance, visits per clinic per day in 2023 are trending lower than last year and the unprecedented spikes in 2021 and 2022. Average visits per clinic per day for UCs are currently averaging in the 25-30 patient range, compared to last year’s which averaged 30-40 visits per day.

Urgent care must consider these changes in patient behavior and tailor their services and marketing strategies accordingly. It is critical to offer convenient and accessible options for patients, such as online check-in, telehealth, and even a care delivery channel preference selection. Understanding the patient population including their attitudes, affiliations, and general behaviors will inform marketing strategies that lead to a clinic’s success. Leaders must also ensure that their value proposition as an urgent care is communicated properly within the communities they serve and differentiate themselves from other providers, such as primary care, retail clinics, and emergency departments.

New Methods of Analyzing and Using Data

Alongside understanding patient and visit volume trends, having a robust business intelligence tool can significantly benefit UC facilities by allowing them to automate data collection and analysis. With the help of these tools, healthcare providers can focus more on data analysis and decision-making rather than data gathering. By gathering and analyzing data, UC clinics can make informed decisions that drive operational efficiency, improve patient experiences, and enhance the quality of care. These data-driven insights are integral to the success of UC facilities in an unpredictable and evolving industry.

UC clinics can filter data to isolate specific variables, such as payers and providers, and identify trends and areas for improvement. For instance, understanding denial rates for each center helps with optimizing revenue cycle management. Access to trend/visit data allows for improved communication within the clinic, enhanced patient experience, reduced door-to-door time, and streamlined financial processes. Overall, data-driven insights help UC facilities adapt and succeed in a dynamic healthcare landscape.

Getting Back to Urgent Care Basics

Urgent care leaders must revisit their basic functions to optimize these core processes. To do so, they should focus on the key performance indicators (KPIs) that reflect operational efficiency, clinical quality, and financial viability. Some of the most common KPIs in urgent care centers include:

  • Visit volume: the number of patients seen per clinic per day, which indicates the demand and utilization of urgent care services.
  • Door-to-door time: the time elapsed from when a patient enters the clinic to when they leave, which indicates the speed and throughput of urgent care services.
  • Evaluation and management (E/M) codes: codes that describe the level of complexity and intensity of care provided to a patient, which indicate the acuity and revenue of urgent care services.
  • Services rendered and procedure codes: the types and numbers of services and procedures performed at the clinic, which indicate the scope and diversity of urgent care services.
  • Revenue cycle metrics: the metrics that measure the financial performance of the clinic, such as net revenue, collections, accounts receivable, and denials, which indicate the profitability and sustainability of urgent care services.

Successful urgent care leaders monitor and analyze these KPIs regularly and use them to inform decision-making and action planning. Identifying areas that require extra support can reveal gaps where operations can be improved to enhance overall clinic performance. This can be done by leveraging technology and data analytics to generate insights and recommendations which in turn can automate and streamline processes.

As the urgent care industry continues to change due to the evolving healthcare landscape, clinics and their leadership must remain agile in order to make necessary changes for their business. By doing so, UCs can continue to provide high-quality, convenient, and affordable care for their patients and communities while also achieving operational and clinical excellence.