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Millennials, Urgent Care Clinics & Telemedicine: A Match Made In Heaven

Scott Berghoff

Written by Scott Berghoff

The healthcare landscape is evolving — all the time. Improvements in technology, changes in healthcare legislation, and changes in the makeup of the U.S. population are only three catalysts that influence this change. Look at our population, the number of Millennials will surpass the number of Boomers this year. The Millennial patient has had to become more knowledgeable about healthcare, health insurance, and provider networks — something that was not necessary a decade or two ago. Research shows this generation prefers not to have a regular primary care provider. They prefer convenience and they want affordable care. While many others still use the emergency room as a primary care office, it is not something Millennials do. In 2015, Medical Economics reported that one quarter of all patients seen at urgent care clinics were Millennials.

The ER will often still be used as primary care by the uninsured and underinsured, but Millennials know and care about the costs in time and money that an unnecessary ER visit can levy. A good deal of insurance companies will now reimbursement for treatments provided in the ER for conditions classified as ‘non-emergency’. Why? The cost of treatment of the same condition in the ER is ten times more than in an urgent care clinic.

The International Journal of Health Services reported from 1996 to 2010, half the medical care provided in the United States happened in an ER, a 44% increase in ER visits over the 14 year study period. Healthline.com interviewed the Director of Hospital Medicine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess, Dr. Shoshana Herzig, and asked what these results meant to her. In her opinion, there is a need for outpatient practices to become more available. She said, “Not only do we likely need greater access via increased availability of primary care doctors and appointment slots, but we need greater flexibility in appointment times to accommodate working adults and greater flexibility in scheduling.” A 2016 report by Kalorama Information states only 31% of PCPs have after-hours availability. The greater flexibility Dr. Herzig called for is easily achieved by urgent care clinics. In fact, it is exactly why the urgent care clinic model exists. Because urgent care clinics could have addressed 30% of all ER cases, the Urgent Care Association of America (UACOC) estimates the US could save $4.4B a year in healthcare dollars spent. Urgent care clinics are growing and will continue to grow. In 2015 the count of urgent care clinics in the US came in at 6,946. In 2018 that number jumped to 8,285. There were 89 million patient visits in the year. This is 29% more than all primary care visits and is 15% of all outpatient visits.

How will urgent care clinics improve the savings and reach more patients without having to lease new space or build new clinics? The answer is telemedicine. The opportunity is now.

Kalorama Information reported the urgent care clinic market grew about 4.1% per year from $12B in 2011 to $15B in 2015. That represents a $3B increase in just four years.

Highlights of the report include:

  • 300 patients per week/per clinic by 2021

  • Treatment cost is low compared to ER

  • Physical clinics are usually in a high-traffic location

  • Later hours of operation are the norm

According to MedExpress, a large urgent care provider in the US, the top reasons people go their urgent care clinics are:

  • Respiratory Illnesses

    • cold

    • flu

    • bronchitis

    • sinusitis

  • Infections

    • ear

    • pink-eye

    • skin

  • Sprains and Strains

  • Urinary Tract Infections

Of the nine ailments listed above, a provider could easily treat most via telemedicine as they do not rely upon any physical manipulation or testing.

In the UCAOA’s 2018 White Paper “The Essential Role of the Urgent Care Center in Population Health” it reported telemedicine is a “fast-growing service” and that it is being used not only to see and treat patients, but to triage and improve flow by assessing needs and sending patients to less busy clinics in their system.

Telemedicine means shorter wait times, less crowded waiting rooms, and less exposure to highly contagious infections like pink-eye or the flu — two of the top infections that bring patients to the urgent care clinic.

With a telemedicine platform, the patient registers personal data and payment info from their home. Patients often rush to the urgent care clinic and leave without documents they need. The clinic would use the virtual waiting room feature to see the demand in real-time. Patient complaints would be triaged to determine if they need an in-office visit or if they continue on to the virtual visit.  Since most virtual visits take 5-7 minutes on average to complete, this means clinics could see more patients overall. This leaves their physical waiting rooms open for patients that need that level of service and decreases their wait times, thus improving overall patient satisfaction.

Choosing the right telemedicine solution will benefit any urgent care network. Telemedicine improves patient outcomes and satisfaction scores. It increases overall revenue and has a positive ROI.  Any urgent care network looking at telemedicine platforms should do so with their needs in the forefront. The platform should be robust, flexible and customizable. A team devoted to the success of their patients and their business is a major bonus. Finally, the platform must be compliant and come with security that is the envy of the telemedicine industry.

When looking for a telemedicine solution, organizations have to become more knowledgeable about telehealth just like Millennials have had to do with healthcare.

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Published: February 22, 2019