Three Ways Urgent Care Can Optimize Operations to Support Understaffed Clinics

By Matthew Blosl, Chief Revenue Officer, Experity
Twitter: @ExperityHealth

Staffing shortages and other challenges have become principal concerns in the healthcare industry over the course of the pandemic, as historically high shortages plague provider facilities across the U.S., from hospitals to urgent care clinics.

Over 500K registered nurses (RNs) are projected to retire this year alone along with an anticipated shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) reaching up to 48K by 2034. At the same time, a 10.6% growth in the U.S. population is predicted. With frontline healthcare professionals leaving the field at dramatic rates, and as the need for on-demand care services remains high, it’s important that urgent care clinics take any action they can to help keep their doors open, keep staff satisfied, and continue providing the critical care millions of Americans rely on.

To compensate for understaffed clinics, urgent care leaders should revisit existing operational processes, strategies, and technology solutions to adapt to industry changes, address causes of burnout, and alleviate staffing challenges while continuing to provide exceptional healthcare experiences for patients. To best support the staff that clinics do have, we look to the strategic utilization of robust and scalable technologies and streamlined operations.

Automating clinic communication services to optimize staffing operations

When assessing opportunities to optimize urgent care operations, process automation is key in streamlining and freeing up staff bandwidth. Phone automation, for example, is hugely beneficial during a time of increased consumer inquiries. With more patients calling about testing, vaccinations, clinic hours, appointments, and scheduling, there is a need for more resources and staff to manage inbound calls. In understaffed, clinical environments where it is vital to have staff tending to high volumes of patient visits, clinics can turn to automated communication and online services that relieve administrative tasks and more general inquiries received via phone that can add to already overburdened workloads.

Texting appointment reminders and other visit-related information often desired by consumers is another use for automation that eliminates staff tasks by reducing phone calls while also reducing no-show rates. Setting up automatic SMS reminders helps clinics reduce inbound calls by proactively keeping patients informed. Automation helps drive accuracy, which lessens the risk of errors and miscommunication while reducing strain and promoting satisfaction levels among staff.

Maximizing EHR capabilities to streamline workflows and drive intelligent staffing

As the central hub or operating system for urgent care businesses, the electronic health record (EHR) system must provide clinics with all the tools and solutions needed to achieve highly efficient and effective operations. Leveraging a flexible, purpose-built urgent care EHR that can apply and analyze data to support and guide decision-making, simplify charting, and expedite workflows enables clinic staff to spend more time on patients and less on documentation. For example, simplified workflows and patient charts allow physicians to chart with fewer clicks, streamline tasks, and enable seamless data entry and access so less time is spent in the EHR. Additionally, easy access to clinic data and performance reports integrated within the EHR gives urgent care leaders the data-driven insights needed to staff most effectively wherever and whenever more or less staff might be needed for peak operational effectiveness and use of resources.

For urgent care clinics, integrating electronic patient registration within the EHR can also help streamline workflows for upfront staff. Electronic patient registration connects the episodical steps leading up to an urgent care visit through leveraging digital capabilities, mitigating some of the administrative issues that can take place on-site and alleviating more of the tasks that pull staff towards the front desk and away from seeing patients or other important work that needs to be done.

Offloading workloads with outsourced billing

Revenue cycle management (RCM) is a foundational part of supporting a healthy urgent care business, however, when managed internally, it often demands a significant portion of a clinic’s talent, resources, and time that many just can’t afford. Outsourcing billing, however, can eliminate the heavy workload and complexities of billing, helping clinics to focus on patient care and other things that must be handled by in-house staff.

Especially amid the ongoing pandemic, external, industry-specific billing companies offer the stability and expertise needed to keep administrative tasks in urgent care running smoothly while eliminating risk that can hinder clinic operations. For example, as staff turnover and shortages continue, the loss of a clinic’s single internal biller can severely threaten the financial health of your business. Having to replace and retrain an employee biller can result in falling behind on collections and other financial errors, but by leaning on an outsourced billing partner, clinics know that their billing is always taken care of by a team of dedicated professionals.

Staffing shortages are forcing healthcare providers to pivot to operate more effectively, meet new patient demands, and provide critical care. For the rapidly growing urgent care and on-demand sectors, it is vital that clinic leaders and owners equip staff with the optimized processes and solutions needed to make their jobs easier, alleviate stress-inducing tasks, and reduce burnout so they can perform their most important task – caring for millions of patients across the nation.