Timing is everything: Patients seeking options turn urgent care into booming business

Patients are often pressed for time during the week. Viruses and bacteria have wide-open schedules.

Leaders in New Jersey’s acute-care environment are well aware of how patients are looking for options at night and on the weekends. So, the state’s largest health care providers are bolstering after-hours care options and using collaborations as an intermediary step to accomplish that.

The latest example of this in the Garden State was Atlantic Health System’s decision to pair up with MedExpress, a subsidiary of insurer UnitedHealth Group. The partnership, announced in the middle of 2018, means Atlantic Health now jointly owns 11 of the company’s urgent care centers in northern New Jersey.

Amy Perry, CEO of Atlantic Health’s hospital division, said the recent focus at her organization has been on providing around-the-clock accessibility for patients.

“Over the past few years, we have opened dozens of primary and specialty care satellite offices and have expanded the hours of many of them to accommodate early morning, late night and weekend requests,” she said. 

The dozen medical centers MedExpress brought into the system’s care equation complement these ongoing efforts to further reinforce accessibility, she added.

And for MedExpress, Perry said it’s benefiting from the coordination of care beyond what can be offered in urgent care by being linked into the system’s more than 400 health care sites and more than 5,000 physicians and providers.

At the same time, health systems around the state are doing a lot of their own urgent care expansion, even outside of these collaborations. Aside from its new MedExpress partnership, Atlantic Health has plans for scaling up its urgent care network.

“We want to expand into our communities and make Atlantic Health more accessible for all of the 4.9 million customers that we serve,” Perry said. “To that end, we have a number of urgent care sites planned for this year, including an advanced urgent care that will offer an even higher level of care than at most urgent cares, scheduled to open in Mountain Lakes in the coming months.”

The Hackensack Meridian Health network has been following a similar path. Several years ago, it partnered with the mostly New York-centered urgent care provider CityMD.

“CityMD is an excellent partner and continues to help Hackensack Meridian Health achieve our goal of providing patients timely access for their immediate medical needs,” said Mike Geiger, vice president of convenient care for Hackensack Meridian Health.

It, too, has plans to expand its own urgent care network.

“Outside of opening a number of additional convenient care locations this year, we are excited to be opening one of the nation’s first urgent care centers (that) will have expanded capabilities to treat both traditional urgent care patients, as well as patients who may have episodic behavioral health needs,” Geiger said. “We believe this new type of urgent care center will help address a major need in the community.”

For Hackensack Meridian Health, it finds, depending on the location, up to 50 percent of patients that come into urgent care settings as well as emergency departments and retail clinics don’t have a primary care physician. 

Geiger said this presents an opportunity to transition patients just seeking care for immediate health needs to having a primary care physician to manage their overall health and well-being.

There’s a number of reasons health systems view urgent care options as part of the prescription for a more all-inclusive health care experience in New Jersey.

“Adding urgent care to our continuum of services helps us improve accessibility and affordability, providing our patients with the right care, at the right time and in the right place,” Perry said.