The United States has many healthcare issues to solve, only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as patients struggle with rising healthcare costs and insurance policies with high deductibles. Convenience is also a major driver of changes in other healthcare system.
It may seem like a luxury aspect, but in today’s busy world time is valuable, and the convenience of localized and smaller facilities such as urgent care centers is leading people away from the hospital-centered system and towards a more segmented and distributed system.
The Convenience Factor
Convenience is a big concern for people seeking care. In fact, it’s often the people with the least means who value convenience the most. Many of these patients are working multiple jobs, living paycheck to paycheck, and have little to no insurance. Convenience can be the difference between squeezing healthcare in versus ignoring those symptoms and hoping for the best.
Convenient healthcare refers to quality care that meets a patient’s needs, budget and schedule. It involves having clinics located close to homes or workplaces, extended hours to work with patients’ busy schedules, and streamlined waiting times and quick service turnarounds.
The popular and growing urgent care model has offered all this, combined with affordable or sliding-scale prices, as well as providing a variety of health and wellness services, and interaction with skilled medical professionals on par with who you’d see in a hospital.
Patients as Customers
These factors explain why urgent care centers have grown in popularity over the years. In 2020, the Urgent Care Association found that there were about 9,600 urgent care centers across the country. Together, these centers processed 89 million patient visits. Those numbers are likely even higher today.
Convenience, supported by technological advancements, is a by-product of a bigger trend in healthcare. Patients are moving away from seeing themselves as receiving care in a traditional hospital system. Instead, they see themselves as customers who seek out care. They proactively look for the best and most affordable ways to meet their health and wellness needs. This is often through a multi-pronged approach that includes local urgent care centers, pharmacies, hospitals, and emergency rooms. The industry is moving more rapidly into the new system of distributed healthcare.
Recent technology advancements now make many forms of care possible. A competitive marketplace for medical software, and personal devices such as medical alerts and now smart watches, allows costs to come down for both patients and healthcare professionals. And the infrastructure growth of telehealth networks offers online, remote consultations and health services. The tech-savvy younger generation especially demands intuitive web portals and highly convenient online access to their bills and medical records. service.
The internet fundamentally changed how people connect with each other and seek out services. The rise of affordable high-speed internet expands the reach of telemedicine, only possible with reliable, quality internet. It can vastly increase patient convenience, as well as improving healthcare efficiency. This is especially true when coupled with extended working hours such as the urgent cares provide. Patients can connect with doctors and receive follow-up services at a convenient time and from their own homes.
The software and computer systems themselves also increase convenience for both patients and medical service providers. For one thing, keeping patient records in digital format instead of as a physical backup trims costs. The healthcare provider skips the expense of a dedicated and climate-controlled room, and those savings can be passed on to the patient. However, it is important to note that when collecting patient data, healthcare providers are required to use a HIPAA-compliant form to keep the patient’s medical records private and secure, and they will only be disclosed to authorized individuals such as physicians.
Digital patient records, along with increasingly sophisticated forms of data security, have also allowed many urgent care centers to improve their websites and online portals. Patients prefer healthcare platforms that are as user-friendly as Apple or Amazon. Urgent care centers are developing patient portals with intuitive layouts, easy search functions, straightforward ways to look at records and pay bills, and more.
This is great news for patients, but technology also streamlines the clinic’s daily operations. How do urgent care centers handle surges of patients during busy hours like after work? Online calendar systems and smart queuing software have been key.
The online calendars on many healthcare portals let patients book timeslots that work for them, often for the same day. And virtual queuing allows people to skip the crowded waiting rooms or lines down the block. Instead, patients can relax at home or in their car. The software tells them when it’s their turn to come in and see the nurse or doctor.
Urgent care centers have proved themselves to be one of the most adaptable segments of the changing healthcare industry. With a more nimble footprint, these and other small clinics can supply both efficiency and quality services, merging convenience and technology to help expand America’s spotty healthcare net.