For Sean McNeeley, MD, patient care was what drew him to medicine. But the challenges of running his own private practice, with its growing administrative burden, made it hard to stay there. So he decided to limit his work to urgent care.
“I loved being in private practice, but it was a challenge in family medicine to be able to do it all well and balance time with my family,” says McNeeley, the medical director of University Hospitals Urgent Care Network based in Cleveland.
Board certified in both family and urgent care medicine, McNeeley ran his private practice from 1999-2004 while also working at an urgent care clinic for extra income. Ultimately, he closed his practice to work solely as an urgent care physician. Today he oversees healthcare providers at ten University Hospitals Urgent Care Network facilities, while still seeing patients every week.
“Working in urgent care gives physicians the ability to balance work and life, which has no on-call schedule, no nights, and limited weekends,” says McNeeley, who is also the president of the board of directors of the Urgent Care Association.
While urgent cares typically are open longer hours than practices, he notes that patients don’t expect to see a particular provider when they seek care at an urgent care clinic, so when a physician is off work, they are truly off. “I can feel good about what I’ve done during the day and I can go home and have some personal time,” McNeeley says.
Interest in, and demand for, urgent care clinics is growing rapidly. The number of clinics has ballooned from 6,946 in 2015 to 8,285 as of June 2018, according to Laurel Stoimenoff, CEO of the Urgent Care Association (UCA) and co-author of “The Essential Role of the Urgent Care Center in Population Health,” a 2018 association report. Behind those figures lies an $18 billion industry ex- perts predict will grow 5.8 percent this year.
Urgent care clinics handle about 89 million patient visits each year, or more than 29 percent of all primary care visits in the country, and nearly 15 percent of all outpatient physician visits, says Stoimenoff.
Urgent care isn’t booming only because of physicians seeking a better work-life balance. Other factors driving the industry’s growth include patient demand, convenience, and costs.
Meeting public demand
Patients seeking medical care don’t want to wait. Urgent care clinics, with their longer hours and walk-in appointments, fulfill that need in a way traditional physicians’ offices can’t always accomplish.
“This is the age of the patient as a consumer, where fast and convenient is never fast and convenient enough,” says Richard Park, MD, CEO and co-founder of CityMD, a group of urgent care clinics in New Jersey, New York, and Washington state, and president-elect of the UCA.
Urgent care clinics blend retail elements such as ground-floor locations that provide easier access, and the ability to schedule same-day appointments using an online calendar program. A customer-first approach, oriented to service and technology, is fueling growth, says Stoimenoff.
However, urgent care clinics could become victims of their own success, writes Len Schlesinger, DBA, Baker Foundation Professor at Harvard Business School, in a column for athenaInsight: “The tension that I see now is that as these urgent care clinics compete for patients, they might lose the focus that made them successful in the first place.”