Paige Robinson, VP of Franchise Development at American Family Care, has worked in franchising for 15 years and in healthcare since 2015.
getty While the Covid-19 pandemic affected countless industries in so many different ways, few were as intimately involved as healthcare. Now, nearly three years past the initial onset of the pandemic, it's clear that disruption accelerated the growth of the urgent care sector. Crowded emergency rooms and staffing shortages in the past few years led people to head to urgent care clinics instead of hospitals. As a disclosure, my company American Family Care is one provider of urgent care solutions. Research from 2021 indicated that the number of people choosing urgent care for their medical needs was already up 58% since 2019. As a consequence, this industry has emerged as a unique franchise opportunity for businesspeople to be involved in healthcare at the unit level without a traditional medical background, allowing them to make a meaningful impact in the communities they serve. In this article, I will break down both the growing popularity of urgent care solutions as well as a few factors that potential investors should seek out when considering urgent care franchising opportunities. Many hospitals, especially in rural areas, have struggled to overcome the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic. Operating costs are skyrocketing for hospitals due to increased labor costs, staffing struggles, supply chain woes and inflation. As a result, the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment and Reform projects a large spike in hospital bankruptcies in 2023, with almost a third of all rural hospitals at risk of closing immediately due to financial issues. This trend will leave people searching for care, leading to urgent care facilities seeing a rise in patient visits.
As operating costs for hospitals increase, so do the bills for patients. Everyone is feeling the heat of inflation and increased labor costs in all aspects of life, so consumers are looking for places to save money, including healthcare. An ER visit isn't typically something most people account for in their monthly budgets. And when prices are rising, finding a value-based alternative to a costly ER visit is essential. For example, most urgent care clinics are equipped to treat a broken bone, leaving excess hospital expenses off the patient's bill. Millennials are now of age to handle their healthcare plans and costs, but the generation that seems so wellness-aware with their trendy workout gyms and smoothie shops doesn't typically set aside the time to have annual checkups. In 2019, Harmony Healthcare IT company found that 24% of millennials surveyed hadn't been to a primary care physician in five or more years. So, when they do have an episodic health issue that needs attention, they turn to accessible and affordable options for answers.
Today's society longs for instant gratification.
Instead of potentially waiting hours in the ER for care, people can now go to walk-in facilities and receive care on demand. Potential investors should know that this industry can require much upfront investment in technological infrastructure, but the investment can be worth it. The popularity of online scheduling tools, among some franchising solutions, can almost fully mitigate that classic hospital pain point: the waiting room.
Potential investors should seek franchising solutions whose models best leverage the urgent care model's unique capacity for efficiency and time savings. A 2019 Urgent Care Association benchmarking report found that nearly all urgent care patient encounters lasted an hour or less, with 92% taking 30 minutes or less for patients to see a provider. Less time, less cost to the patient. Plus, more efficient turnaround times mean these clinics can see more patients per hour, increasing the center's revenue and improving patient experience.
Statistics show people recognize the value of walking into urgent care over an ER. For example, the Urgent Care Association finds that when an urgent care clinic pops up in the vicinity of a hospital, the ER visits for that hospital drop by 17%.
Finally, potential investors should know that when it comes to staffing, the urgent care model can provide employment opportunities for many healthcare professionals looking for a change of pace in their ability to offer staff lower-stress workplace situations, fewer life-altering decisions required and more schedule flexibility.
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