Opening an urgent care facility may just be the perfect business opportunity. It fits doctors’ skill sets and can supplement income or provide more independence while tapping into a physician’s entrepreneurial nature. But, according to those who have made the leap, the hours are long, the profits margins are thin, and the financial risks are high.
“I wish I knew before I opened my urgent care how many hours I would have to put in,” says George G. Ellis, Jr., MD, FACP, chief medical adviser to Medical Economics. Ellis owns the 910 Rapid Care clinic adjacent to his private practice in Youngstown, Ohio. “The private practice and urgent care consume about 90 hours a week for me.”
For a new urgent care to succeed, physician-owners must carefully research all the details about the location under consideration, the services and staffing requirements, and accept the fact that urgent care medicine demands a different mindset than private practice.
But when done right, urgent care can be an opportunity to help meet the medical needs of the community while providing financial rewards for the long hours and risks a physician must take to open the doors.
Where to start
“There are a lot of people that think of open- ing an urgent care as a construction project, but that’s just 20 percent of what needs to be done and what they need to be thinking about,” says Laurel Stoimenoff, PT, CEO of the Urgent Care Association, which provides accreditation and resources to urgent care facilities. “Like studying for an exam, a lot of work needs to go in upfront before you start.”
The first thing to understand is the financial commitment. Stoimenoff says it will most likely take between $800,000 and $1.2 million to build and open an urgent care, depending on facility size and location.
And experts say location is extremely important.“This is retail medicine,” says Thomas Brown, MD, an internist and founder of Kathy’s Urgent Care, which operates three urgent care centers in the greater Hartford, Conn., area and has leases signed to open two more in the next several months. “The first consideration is what’s a viable location that will be profitable, and that entails a detailed demographic analysis.”
This analysis should include population density in a one-, three-, and five-mile radius around the proposed clinic. To be successful, an urgent care needs at least 30,000 people within five miles, says Stoimenoff. The analysis also should include daily traffic counts on the street where it will be located, ease of getting in and out, number of parking spaces, and nearby competition.
“Find a visible location that is easy to get to,” says John Kulin, DO, an emergency medicine physician who is the founder and CEO of six Urgent Care Now clinics in the Philadelphia area. “Sometimes the most visible spot is not the easiest to get to.” For example, a potential location may be easily seen from a busy road, but doesn’t have direct access, making it inconvenient for the patient.