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Patient Experience in the Age of Urgent Care

Blog by Ian Luck
February 14, 2018

If you’ve traversed the health care system in the United States, chances are you have a rather long list of complaints.

Before the mid-1980s, there were few options when it came to getting quick medical care on an outpatient basis. From unbearably long emergency room wait times (and the associated large bills) to the growing difficulty of actually finding or booking an appointment with your primary care physician, there was a mounting frustration among patients with the care they were receiving for non-emergency treatment.

Ultimately, this gap led to a rise in what we now call “urgent cares” along with an emphasis on providing better patient experience.

What Defines an Urgent Care? 

Screen Shot 2017-01-03 at 2.03.52 PMThere are two established bodies that provide criteria for what qualifies as an urgent care center: the Urgent
Care Association of America (UCAOA) and the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine (AAUCM).

To qualify as an urgent care center, criteria include:

  • Open 7 days a week during normal business hours (according to the 2012 Urgent Care Benchmarking Survey by UCAOA, most urgent care open by 8:00am and close by 8:00pm)
  • Can treat a broad range of injuries and illness, with the ability to perform minor medical procedures
  • A medical director with an operating physician’s license
  • Diagnostic equipment, including phlebotomy and x-rays (for taking blood and assessing fractures and broken bones) and multiple exam rooms
  • Follow ethical and business standards

Why Choose an Urgent Care? 

As discussed, the rise in urgent care centers (with an estimated 10,000 in operation within the US) is attributed to a number of factors in providing a better patient experience:

  • Shorter wait times Wait times at most urgent care clinics average between 10-35 minutes, with many having less than a 15- to 20-minute wait time. This is significant. According to Pro Publica, the average length of time that people in the US spend in the emergency department—from when they get to the ER to discharge/admissions—is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Many urgent care locations also offer online check-in and calling ahead, much like making an appointment with a primary care physician the day of. Where once people would bear through a flu to avoid long wait times, meaning staying sicker longer and missing more work, the convenience of urgent cares have made this unnecessary.
  • Lower costs There is a significant difference between costs for outpatient care at urgent cares vs. emergency departments at hospitals. In fact, ER hospital visits are 4x more expensive than most urgent care treatments for non-life threatening illnesses. Below is a snapshot of a standard comparison between ER and urgent care costs. Screen Shot 2017-01-03 at 1.12.08 PM So, next time you are looking to treat your strep throat or ear infection, check out to find the closest urgent care to you.
  • Overall improved patient experience A lot of the current hype around improved patient experience is due, in large part, to the emergence of urgent care clinics. While both hospitals and all types of clinics are concerned with patient overall care as a goal, patient experience lends a unique place in the urgent care realm. From creating a welcoming environment the moment you walk in, to providing materials on how they are looking to actively improve your experience, urgent cares competing factors often come down to the success of their patient experience and engagement.

But, just what is "patient experience"?

Patient Experience—What It Is and Its Importance

Picture1Patient experience is the lifecycle a patient experiences with a medical care facility—from calling into the doctor’s office to taking a lollipop as you sashay out the exit doors. Patient experience is tied to whether a patient's expectations were met, beyond a their clinical outcome or health status, and if they were supported both physically and emotionally.

As previously mentioned, urgent cares are more driven by patient experience than your average hospital. This isn't to say hospitals can't provide excellent patient experience. However, the sheer demand and nature of hospitals mean quality of care and providing care quickly is more of a driving factor.

When it comes to running an urgent care, patients are looking for more than just optimal care, they are looking for guaranteed convenience and comfort.

The emphasis on patient experience also has positive impacts on the health and economy of the community as a whole. Improved patient experience and a rise in urgent cares means the population recovers more quickly from sickness, employees miss less work, children miss less school, and people get sick less by those unable to pay for costly ER visits or without 2 hours to spare.

5 Ways to Provide Excellent Patient Experience

To understand whether an urgent care is providing superior patient experience, a few criteria can be evaluated:

  1. Fast access to expert health advice Time is everything when it comes to urgent cares. A large part of this is ensuring your onboarding for walk-in patients is quick, clear and managed well. Ensure staff are clear on instructions for filling out paperwork.
  1. Welcoming environment/Emotional support Try to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to patients, both young and old. Offer activities and games to relieve those parents with children while waiting and provide handicap accessible seating for elderly patients. Treat patients as welcomed guests and be sure to check-in with them if wait times are longer than normal.
  1. Clear, informative literature Provide literature that informs patients on healthy tips, such as battling flu seasons or good eating habits, and of their rights as a patient.
  1. Effective treatment and follow-up Doctors and staff should explain both pre-, during, and post-visit what the patient can expect. Provide explanation of what the patient should be doing to improve, where they can pick up their prescription, and what they can expect in the coming days.
  2. Engagement There’s only one way to improve: Ask your patients. Use surveys to gauge how your urgent care is doing using survey tools like CustomerGauge which employ the Net Promoter® methodology. Our Fine Art of Surveying eBook provides helpful steps for conducting surveys with your patients to get the most effective feedback.

If you'd like to learn more about improving patient experience and growing your urgent care's profits, watch our latest webinar  led by Division Vice President of Urgent Team, Nancy Becker, and CustomerGauge CEO, Adam Dorrell.

Watch the Webinar!

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