Aug 18

Summer: Sun, Fun, and… Urgent Care Visits!

The time-honored traditions of summer – vacations, backyard barbecues, pool parties, visits to the beach and lots of time outside – can easily lead to unforeseen medical situations, many serious enough to require urgent attention.

Summertime is a Boom Time for Urgent Care

As more consumers steer away from busy hospital emergency departments, in favor of visiting smaller, less expensive and more accessible urgent care centers, the centers must be prepared for an influx of cases. Industry reports point to a 15-27% uptick in urgent care visits during summer months. Complaints include:

  • Sunburn and heatstroke from too much time at the beach, pool, or on the water
  • Food poisoning from food left outside too long
  • Allergic reactions to food or insects
  • Serious cuts and scrapes from sharp shells and rocks
  • Ankle sprains from hiking, or just playing in the backyard
  • And any number of other sports- or outdoor-related maladies

While most cases can easily be resolved within an urgent care clinic, it’s important to note the serious health implications when temperatures go above 75-degrees. A 2015 study by Brown University and the Rhode Island Department of Public Health found that “overall temperature began to play an independent role in increasing ED visits starting at about 75 degrees. The rate of heat-related ED visits jumped 3.3% on days with a high of 75 degrees compared to days with a high of 65, but urgent care visits spiked 23.9% on days with a high of 85 vs. 75 degrees.”

Prevention is Better Than Cure

While it is important to be ready to treat patients with heat and seasonal-related conditions, it would be better (at least for them) if they never needed medical attention in the first place. One way to gain visibility and goodwill in your community, would be to promote your urgent care clinic while educating consumers about some of the most common hazards of summer fun, such as:

  • Pool safety, especially recognizing the symptoms of dry drowning
  • First-aid techniques for muscle sprains, blisters, cuts, burns and scrapes
  • Recommendations to have a first-aid kit on hand when travelling
  • Reminders about sun-screen, especially re-application
  • Pointers on proper hydration

By combining public health messages with marketing visibility, urgent care clinics stand to win on two fronts – creating an affinity for the clinic within their community and hopefully helping consumers avoid urgent or emergent health situations during summer months.

Urgent Care Marketing Tips for Summer

With so much going on, it’s important to maintain your marketing focus. Promote core messages around topics like:

  • Location
  • Hours of operation
  • Types of patients accepted (pediatrics, etc.)
  • Number/type of practitioners (MD, PNP, PA)
  • Insurances accepted
  • Specialties or special services offered

It is very important to maintain a level of awareness that can translate to business the minute something goes wrong for a consumer. Social media, search engine optimization and search engine marketing, as well as traditional media are ways to maintain a presence and keep your clinic in the minds of your potential patients.

Vacation communities present unique marketing opportunities for urgent care clinics. While print advertising is typically not an effective medium, the “free” publications that are available throughout vacation communities represent an easy way to reach vacationers, as they often pick up the local guides to research area attractions, restaurants and retail shopping. There are often opportunities to contribute articles to these publications, providing a venue to present the preventive advice (above) while letting people know that your clinic is there should they need it. Having a well-placed ad and a directory listing in such publications helps urgent care clinics create mind-share among a target market that will be in “reaction mode” should the need for an urgent care visit arise during their stay. Creating awareness upfront pays off in such situations.

The need for urgent care in summer months (and in warm weather vacation destinations year-round) is very real. Since the category of urgent care has grown exponentially over the past few years, measuring visit data has been something of a moving target. However, the corollary between non-emergent complaints to urgent care is clear. Changes in consumer attitudes and resulting behavior have created a big opportunity for cases that have historically presented at emergency rooms to be offloaded to urgent care clinics.

A specific example of this is sunburns. The American Medical Association’s journal Dermatology published research, whose lead author is Gery Guy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Guy is quoted as saying, “High rates of sunburn, especially among young people, show that people are either not aware of sunburn risk, or aren’t taking steps consistently to prevent it.” The study team examined a national database for 2013, tallying all emergency room visits whose primary or secondary reason was sunburn and found that that year, there were an estimated 33,826 ER visits for sunburn nationwide. They were most common in the South, in spring and summer and among women between 18 and 29 years old and boys under age 18. The estimated cost of more than $11 million is actually an underestimate, the researchers note, because it only includes hospital charges and not doctors’ fees or sunburns treated in other settings like urgent care facilities. Applying data from the Massachusetts Medical Society that found in 2015 that “38% of Massachusetts emergency department visits were for nonemergency conditions and 73% of recent emergency department visits were for care after normal operating hours at the doctor’s office or clinic,” one can see that there is a huge opportunity for urgent care clinics to thrive, and the summer months present an ideal opportunity for low-hurdle first-visits that may lead to mindshare, follow-up visits and patient-to-patient referrals.

Be prepared for Summertime Urgent Care Visits

In order to translate this opportunity to efficient and profitable service, the best advice is, as ever:  Be prepared. Provide ice water in your waiting room, and perhaps even ice packs or cold compresses. Comfort measures make patients feel welcome and help them manage wait times more easily. Operationally, be sure that your staff is ready to triage heat-related conditions. If you have the opportunity to create templates for common conditions using UrgiChart from Edaris Health (EMR) or urgiCareMD from Henry Schein (EMR/PM), you’ll save time by having thought through and documented your diagnostic approach using a ChartStarter™. This will save you time as you see case-after-case of the top summer complaints, but it will also create consistent care among the providers in your practice, insuring that each patient benefits from your forethought and planning. If you don’t have software that allows for such preparation, at least have your “game plan” laid out beforehand to create an efficient and patient-friendly treatment approach to the most common complaints.

Analyze Visits to Your Urgent Care Center after Labor Day
In addition to looking at reports on a daily or weekly basis, once your busy summer is over, and before you take your vacation, remember to create a report that documents the types of care you provided over the summer months; measuring individual provider productivity, and evaluating the profitability of the care you provided, based on insurance payments and billing cycles. This will help you prepare for the next summer season, and give you the peace of mind knowing that the goals you’ve set for your practice are being met – and if they aren’t, you will have the data you need to make the appropriate adjustments.

About the Author
Carolyn Doucette is the Director of UrgiChart , the only cloud-based EMR solution that meets the unique workflow and specific documentation needs of urgent care environments, developed by Edaris Health, a healthcare technology leader specializing in emergency and urgent care. Ms. Doucette has overseen UrgiChart (EMR) from its inception, as well as its complete integration into urgiCareMD, the combined EMR/PM from Henry Schein MicroMD. Ms. Doucette has more than 15 years of experience in healthcare and network technology. She holds a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering and a Masters Certificate in IS/IT Project Management.

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About the author,
Carolyn Doucette

Carolyn Doucette is the Director of UrgiChart , the only cloud-based EMR solution that meets the unique workflow and specific documentation needs of urgent care environments, developed by Edaris Health, a healthcare technology leader specializing in emergency and urgent care. Ms. Doucette has overseen UrgiChart (EMR) from its inception, as well as its complete integration into urgiCareMD, the combined EMR/PM from Henry Schein MicroMD. Ms. Doucette has more than 15 years of experience in healthcare and network technology. She holds a B.S. degree in Biomedical Engineering and a Masters Certificate in IS/IT Project Management.

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