March 17, 2017

Hospital systems are teaming up with urgent-care providers to provide ED alternatives

Daily Briefing

    Hospital systems increasingly are acquiring and merging with urgent care providers to increase access and offer lower-cost alternatives to emergency departments (EDs), Dave Barkholz reports for Modern Healthcare.

    There currently are between 7,500 and 10,000 urgent care centers throughout the United States, according to Andrew Bab, partner and co-head of the Debevoise & Plimpton's health care practice. Bab estimated that hospitals operate about 20 percent of the centers, while another 15 percent are run through joint ventures.

    For example, the Washington-based MultiCare Health System last year acquired urgent care provider Immediate Clinic, adding 14 urgent care clinics to its system, Barkholz reports. Christi McCarren, senior vice president of retail health and community-based care at MultiCare, said the expansion is part of the health system's effort to increase unique patient visits at its system from 294,000 in 2014 to 1.3 million by 2020.

    New York-based Northwell Health has entered a split venture with GoHealth Urgent Care and under the venture expects to operate 45 urgent care centers in New York City by the end of 2017. The health system currently operates 33 centers with GoHealth. Adam Boll, vice president of ventures at Northwell, said the split venture allows Northwell to share the urgent care centers' capital costs with GoHealth, while allowing GoHealth, which has national experience operating such centers, to run the clinics.

    Experts say patient demand, payment trends driving urgent care expansion

    Boll said patient demand is driving an expansion of urgent care clinics, adding that patients enjoy having a lower-cost and less time consuming alternative to EDs. He said clinicians at Northwell GoHealth centers can X-ray patients and administer services like stitches at a lower cost than an ED.

    According to McCarren, urgent care visits usually cost between 25 to 33 percent less than what an ED visit costs.

    Bab said the U.S. health care system's transition toward value-based payments also could be driving an expansion of urgent care centers. He explained that the centers relieve demand on EDs, allowing ED physicians to take care of patients with more serious needs (Barkholz, Modern Healthcare, 1/25).

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