As the marketplace becomes crowded, it will be critically important for urgent care centers to find ways to stay economically viable. One way they can do this is to embrace technology, which will help them deliver the highest quality of patient care.
According to a 2014 Benchmarking Survey by the Urgent Care Association of America, there were 6,400 urgent care centers in the United States. The American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine puts that number even higher, at 9,300 centers nationwide. While it’s hard to get an accurate count of these facilities, what is clear is that the growth of this care model will accelerate in the future.
As the marketplace becomes crowded, it will be even more important for urgent care centers to find ways to stay economically viable. One way they can do this is to embrace technology, which will help them deliver the highest quality of patient care.
Here are 5 must have medical technologies for urgent care centers:
1. Electronic Health Records
The urgent care environment is fast-paced and dynamic. Because of this, workflows have to be optimal and efficient to provide great care at affordable costs and with short wait times. This need for improved productivity makes the case for an EHR system.
EHRs not only reduce redundant paperwork but, when integrated with a billing program, make submitting claims electronically incredibly simple. Lab tests can also be securely forwarded to patient’s primary care physician for follow-up. And, with many solutions now offering clinical decision support, an urgent care’s staff can quickly find answers to a medical question while the patient is in the next exam room.
Cost of Implementation
Several studies have looked at the cost of purchasing and installing EHRs and found the averages range between $15,000 and $70,000. These costs vary depending on whether the system is deployed on-site or is web-based and cover things like:
Hardware: If you select an on-site setup, think database servers. And no matter which setup you go with, you’ll also need to factor in costs of desktop and laptop computers, printers, and scanners.
Software: These will vary depending on deployment but you should take into consideration interface modules (like lab interface) and any upgrades or customization you will need.
Infrastructure: If deploying on-site, be sure to factor in the cost of an IT contractor, electrician, installation, and consultation support.
Training: Your urgent care staff, including physicians, nurses, billers, and front desk people, will need to be trained to ensure optimal workflows are designed and maintained.
Ongoing fees and maintenance: You’ll find web-based solutions more cost-effective in this department because there is no hardware for you to maintain, therefor no IT staff to pay.
Savings and ROI
While the initial EHR implementation costs can come with a hefty price tag, these technology solutions end up saving urgent care centers money, and therefore offer a healthy ROI.
Savings come from a variety of places, such as the elimination of paper transcription fees, less hard copy mailings, and less wasted staff time on the phone with local pharmacies thanks to ePrescribing, to name a few. Also, the cleaner the claims submitted by the clinic, the bigger and steadier their revenue stream.
2. Practice Management Software
The first thing to mention about PM software is that it is much, much more than just a medical billing software solution. Quality PM Software can completely streamline the clinical, administrative, and financial operations of your care center, allowing you to be more productive and deliver optimum patient care.
PM software can help your organization:
• Enhance the patient experience
• Increase reimbursements
• Improve the efficiency of your day-to-day operations
• Stay ahead of compliance regulations
Unlike implementing an EHR system, PM software is typically an out-of-box solution, so you won’t need to pay thousands of dollars for installation. Having said that, vendor prices vary, from $80 a month to $500 a month, with some charging additional fees for added users.
Savings and ROI
The facts that PM software can run operations from behind the scenes and make your life much easier ought to be enough on its own to make it a worthy investment. But when you realize a quality solution can significantly increase your accepted claims rate AND get you paid much faster, it becomes a no-brainer.
3. Patient Portal
Christine Paige is the point person for consumerism at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan. She believes companies like Uber and Zappos have forever changed how consumers expect to be treated. “Today’s consumers expect to have access to information, be able to understand the information provided and use that information to make decisions.”
This consumer demand for HIT is answered via the patient portal. Patient portals can supply that educational information for patients, who can then learn at their own convenience. Portals also help with little things like scheduling and big things like clear communication with providers. When integrated with an EHR system, patient portals can improve patient care and provider workflow at the same time.
Typically, healthcare organizations add on patient portals once they’ve installed an EHR system. The problem with doing it this way is, costs, which can include things like software, installation, and maintenance, are not fully considered. Some vendors even charge a per-transaction fee. This means your care center may be charged for each email message sent or patient reminder. These costs can add up quickly, so it’s best to estimate up-front and ongoing costs to budget correctly.
Savings and ROI
As previously mentioned, consumers are now demanding HIT. Patient portals make patients happier. When they’re happy with your service, they’ll return and tell others to walk into your clinic as opposed to the one down the street that isn’t currently embracing technology. More feet walking in through your doors means more money.
4. CRM Tools
You may not think you have to do much in the way of marketing your urgent care clinic, but think again. Unless you’re the only game in town, you’ve got to advertise your facility and develop messaging that sets you apart from other clinics in the area. Even if you ARE the only game in town, many consumers are still confused as to the benefits you offer and need to be educated through relevant campaigns.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools offer three key elements to urgent care centers:
• Data capturing and consolidation in one main database.
• Analyzation of data to determine the most effective marketing opportunities, demographic and channels of communication.
• Identifying projected ROI of each campaign.
CRM solutions can improve a clinic’s bottom line by reaching your most profitable customers and lowering marketing expenses at the same time. CRM solutions also enhance the relationships between your clinic and consumers by offering relevant messaging that adds value to their life and health.
When it comes to the cost of CRM software, you’ll be looking at investing in hardware, software, customization, and training. The actual software will be the biggest ticket item, and prices can range from less than $100 to many thousands per user. An urgent care clinic, with fewer users, would most likely be looking at a solution on the lower end of the cost scale. To save even more money, consider looking into a web-based solution that can provide solid features but for under $50 per month.
Savings and ROI
When you consider an effective marketing campaign can bring in new patients and revenue each month, and that these patients will most likely be repeat customers as well as brand ambassadors, the software pays for itself.
5. iPad EHR
iPad EHR allows physicians to chart while maintaining eye contact with the patient, incredibly important to the overall patient experience. But that’s not the only benefit of the app:
• iPads are extremely portable and much easier to carry around the clinic than a laptop computer.
Because iPads generally have a longer battery life than laptops — usually 10 hours on a full charge – you can chart an entire day’s patient flow.
Pictures may be taken easily on the iPad and used for documenting medical conditions, such as a laceration.
Some EHR vendors include this app for free with their system. For those that don’t, prices are still very reasonable.
Savings and ROI
Consumers want your full attention when they walk into that exam room. They are sick and in pain, and a lack of eye contact simply won’t cut it. Happy customers mean more business — always.
Aiden Spencer is a health IT researcher and writer at CureMD who focuses on various engaging and informative topics related to the health IT industry. He loves to research and write about topics such as Affordable Care Act, electronic health records, revenue cycle management, privacy, and security of patient health data. You can get in touch with him on Twitter: @AidenSpencer15