Quick-care clinics are growing in popularity and are competing with primary-care practices for patients. They have the potential to hurt, if not derail, your quality imperatives with Medicare and other payers.
Here are some ways to level the playing field. There's no secret sauce here, just tried-and-true methods for keeping your patients.
First, let's detail what these clinics offer:
• Easy access. Most are found in high traffic retail settings
• Walk-in care. No appointment is necessary
• Evening and weekend hours
• Published — and promoted —straightforward pricing (and participation with most payers)
To further complicate the landscape, many payers are offering their own branded version of telemedicine. I lump this 'service' into the quick-care niche because it targets the same patients and essentially offers the same product.
GOOD IS GOOD ENOUGH
We must understand and accept that society has changed. Good care is good enough unless a patient is very sick, and good care is convenient care. Today's patient is less interested in a vested relationship with you than in getting care when she wants it and where she wants it.
We must adapt to compete.
LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD
Ease of patient access is everything in primary care. Your office should be visible, convenient, and near a popular retail destination. That last point may be heretic, but think like a patient. Why drive 20 minutes for a bit when there are closer and quicker places to grab one? Sure, you'd drive further for a great meal, but low acuity aches and pains are more akin to your basic Happy Meal. If your office is mired in an inconvenient location, consider moving or adding a small retail clinic. Know your patient base — you want to be where they go.
Ease of patient access also means that patients can see you when they want to see you. Same-day and/or walk-in appointments should be part of your standard repertoire. My primary-care practice leased a space next door to one of its offices. It's their own urgent care clinic, with extended hours, amazing service, and 'no appointment needed'. They have out-convenienced the convenience clinic.
There is generally a strong correlation between patient need ("I feel bad today, not next Tuesday at 3:15") and patients showing up for appointments. Having same-day appointment availability should cut down on no-shows. Looking at one's no-shows and late cancellations relative to when the appointments were made is something your practice should do at least annually.
Many practices have established same-day/walk-in options already, particularly for those times when demand is highest. You may want to use an advanced practice provider in this circumstance.
'Evening and weekend hours' may be bad words in your vocabulary. Off-hours can be difficult to staff with providers and employees. Evening and weekend hours are when many patients like being seen, though. I have visited my primary-care doctor's practice after my workday twice in the past year. They had my records, they 'knew' me, and they saw me when it worked for me. They have adapted and are keeping their patients in-house.
Don't forget that keeping patients out of the emergency room will continue to be a key quality (i.e., payment) metric, so being more convenient will have a downstream value, too.
Straightforward and promoted pricing? Well, most quick-care clinics participate with the same payers you do and collect the same co-pay. The pricing ploy is just that. For sports physicals and other services that may not be billed to insurance, you can keep the business if you want it.
I believe virtual visits have a place. With many commercial and government payers pay the same for a virtual visit as they do for an office visit, it is something your practice should consider. You can conduct a virtual visit from anywhere that you have a cell connection. Here are three potential uses for virtual visits in your practice:
• Inclement weather days need no longer be a financial drain on the practice.
• Weekend clinic no longer needs to be staff dependent.
• Maintenance and medication check-ups can be very efficient virtually. Diabetics track their blood sugar, hypertensive and hypotensive patients track their blood pressure. Having periodic virtual visits for stable patients is very convenient for patients and very efficient for you.
Convenience trumps great care most of the time…so adapt. It is not as hard as it seems once you start. You have an inherent advantage: Your patients are 'your' patients. Promote your convenience. Every office visit is an opportunity. Your waiting room, exam rooms, patient portal, and websites are opportunities. Let your patients know you are there for them, when they need you. It's a message we don't convey enough. I believe it is an important one. And it's an edge when competing with quick-care clinics.
Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, is administrator of Gastrointestinal Specialists, Inc., a 25-provider practice in Central Virginia. For the past twenty years, he has worked in and consulted with physician practices in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiations, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He may be reached at [email protected].