Column: The business of urgent care

By Jordan Arovas

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This isn’t the place for the flashing lights and the blaring sirens but the medical issues dealt with at urgent care facilities still have great impact on people’s lives. That’s one reason why more and more are popping up in neighborhoods near you.

The central purpose of an urgent care facility is to treat a wide range of minor medical conditions — everything from colds to sprains — that have an effect on our daily lives. There’s also an expanded menu of services that can feature drug testing, pre-employment testing, lab work, x-rays and those all-important school and camp medical forms.

According to the U.S. Urgent Care Association, there are nearly 7,100 centers across the nation. This is kind of the new “it” industry and the ownership of these facilities can vary, including a hospital, a corporation, a medical group or other health care entrepreneurs. Another option to enter this industry is through obtaining a franchised urgent care center. With the extensive corporate backing, this can provide much-needed guidance, mentorship, purchasing power and ongoing support for the venture.

But like any business venture, one of the necessary foundations of an urgent care center is a business plan that can outline and address key areas:

  • Demographic study of population centers and potential competitors who already exist in the area.
  • Sources and uses of funds for a new center to properly fit out a facility and purchase required equipment. Working capital will be needed to cover operational costs.
  • Financial projections on revenue and expenses. For instance, how many patients a day can be served will be a very important metric.
  • Information technology systems, including protection of patient data.
  • Staffing the necessary personnel from doctors, nurses and office managers as well as determining overall hours of operation.
  • Marketing and social media strategies to build a brand in the local community.

That’s a lot of planning when you think about it, especially financial. Banking institutions are available to provide a wide array of services, including conventional and Small Business Administration financing, depository, cash management, fraud prevention and merchant services that are critical to support the ongoing business operations.

From a business viewpoint, the urgent care center fills a critical need for care, combined with a large population of new patients spending their health care dollars. These dollars will be covered through insurance, Medicare, private pay and tapping into health savings accounts. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, national health expenditures grew 5.3 percent to $3 trillion in 2014, or $9,523 per person, and accounted for 17.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Given the adoption of electronic medical records, this can help greatly to add efficiency to the overall business and manage the entire care process. Many offices may also enlist the services of an outside medical billing company to handle their collections.

Urgent care centers tend to be located in highly trafficked areas such as major shopping centers and highways where they can reach a large base of potential patients in the community. What appeals most to individuals is:

  • Convenience — walk-in traffic and no appointment needed; extended daily hours with weekend and holiday hours if necessary.
  • Time commitment — overall less waiting to see a doctor and quicker return to daily activities.
  • Maintain relationship with primary care doctor and overall care coordination. If unable to schedule an immediate appointment with primary care physician, urgent care can augment medical attention.
  • Cost savings — it’s considerably less than the traditional emergency room services.

Which brings us back to those flashing lights and blaring sirens. It’s been widely reported that the U.S. will face a shortage of primary care doctors as the aging population of physicians retires. This might be a good medical and business investment.

Jordan Arovas is senior vice president and manager of specialty banking at Webster Bank in Waterbury. He can be reached at 203-578-2230 or jarovas@websterbank.com.

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