By Dr. Benjamin Barlow, chief medical officer, Experity.
As we evaluate the healthcare landscape following the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the urgent care (UC) industry, facilities have undergone significant transformation. Patient behaviors and economic factors have converged to reshape the way people perceive healthcare.
For urgent care, access to the use of reliable, accurate data is critical to inform intelligent decision-making and clinic success throughout dynamic market conditions and changing consumer preferences.
Part of this adaption centers around redefining expectations and benchmarks to measure success by leveraging data-driven insights to ensure that UC clinics continue meeting the evolving needs of their patient population.
Changing Patient Behaviors
In 2019, urgent care clinics were a familiar and reliable part of the healthcare ecosystem. Patients sought their services for minor injuries, illnesses, and a range of non-life-threatening conditions. During the pandemic, patients visited for COVID-related issues like testing, vaccinations, and respiratory care, but were hesitant to visit medical facilities for non-COVID conditions in fear of contracting diseases.
Now, UC clinics are vastly different as patient sentiment has again changed. This transformation can be attributed to shifts in patient behavior and the economic impact of healthcare decisions. Additionally, the end of the public health emergency (PHE) has stripped millions of Americans of their Medicaid coverage, further amplifying the issue of healthcare access, and adding to the uncertainty surrounding patient healthcare coverage.
According to a 2022 Gallup report, 38% of Americans delayed seeking medical care due to cost implications, marking a 12% increase from the previous year. This reflects the growing concerns surrounding healthcare affordability, having a profound impact on when and where patients seek medical attention. Rising deductibles, changes in insurance coverage, and the economic conditions following the pandemic have led individuals to reconsider their healthcare choices, often delaying care until conditions worsen and requiring costly emergency room (ER) visits.
The worsening of these cases is often preventable if patients seek care when they first notice symptoms, and UCs can help fill this gap as an alternative to an ER visit. With robust education through marketing initiatives, the value of a practice and the services it can provide throughout the community will ensure patients have the information needed to make educated decisions about their healthcare.
Unlocking the Power of Data
Urgent care clinics are armed with more data than ever. However, effectively utilizing this data remains a challenge – this is where business analytics (BA) comes in. BA is the combination of skills, technologies, and practices used to examine an organization’s data and performance to gain insights and make data-driven decisions for the future using statistical analysis.
Overall this is a tool that simplifies and streamlines the data utilization process and can be used to interpret all the collected data. By providing owners, administrators, and clinicians with easily comprehensible visual data, it empowers them to measure performance and make data-driven decisions that benefit both patient outcomes and the business overall.
Traditionally, urgent care operators have compared clinic performance against standard industry benchmarks. Advances in technology are easily interpreted with BA solutions, which enable a deeper level of analysis that UCs need to take into account.
UC clinics can now drill down into highly specific metrics, moving beyond general, high-level enterprise data. This ability to access and analyze data by provider, visit type, and other precise parameters equips operators with the insights needed to understand the variables influencing their businesses and take intentional actions to set plans and goals for the future. UCs can use the information to predict outcomes and create reasonable expectations for patient behavior and visit volumes.
Adaptation in the Face of Continued Change
The urgent care industry has a long history of adapting alongside changing market conditions driven by patient needs. During the pandemic, many clinics successfully navigated these changes by embracing telemedicine, expanding services, and enhancing safety measures. Now, it’s imperative that UC clinics reevaluate their strategic business plans for the future of the patient populations they serve.
To do so, they must gain a clear understanding of the current healthcare marketplace and the state of their communities, and align their services with the evolving needs and desires of their patients. Staying on top of UC trends will help inform decisions in the dynamic market and adjusting KPIs (key performance indicators) accordingly will give an overview of the practices success.
Incremental changes, guided by BA, can shift the trajectory of clinic success. BA simplifies data analysis so users can easily aggregate, interpret, and act on all of the data. By focusing on affordability, health equity, and data-driven decision-making, urgent care providers can redefine their benchmarks and expectations.
This will ensure that they remain a vital and accessible resource for patients seeking prompt and affordable medical care. By redefining benchmarks and expectations, UC clinics can continue to play a crucial role in delivering accessible, efficient, and high-quality healthcare to their communities.