Can (or should) you compete with urgent care centers?

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Walk-in clinics, urgent care centers and “minute” healthcare facilities; it seems like one is popping up on every corner. In addition to small centers run by physicians or entrepreneurs, heavy hitters like Walmart and Walgreens have entered the fray.

Convenience and accessibility are consistently rated among patients’ most desired traits in a healthcare provider. What’s a traditional primary care practice to do? What is the most effective way of marketing your medical practice?

Before you decide how to a) compete, b) coexist, or c) partner with these guys, you need to have a clear idea what your practice is, or what you want it to be. If you want convenience to be a cornerstone of what you offer, can you:

  • realistically offer early morning, evening and weekend hours?
  • provide walk-in (no appointment) visits without making patients wait over 30 minutes in a waiting room?
  • offer on-site lab, xray and other “full service” choices?

Likely, head-on competition isn’t going to work for you. So let’s examine the coexist and partner options;

COEXIST. You have many qualities that walk-in clinics do not; full-time permanent physicians, long term patient relationships, solid clinical reputation in the community, and others. Know who you are, and be really good at it. If your benefits are attractive to a sufficient number of patients, and if you can effectively communicate those benefits to existing and potential patients, you’ll be fine. Just be aware that healthcare options are growing, and patients are becoming increasingly knowledgeable consumers. Being good isn’t nearly good enough any more. You have to be really good, and convince lots of patients that they need what you offer.

PARTNER. There may be opportunities to play nice with one or more of the walk-in clinics in your community. To do this, you must first seek to understand what these facilities offer, and what they do not. Many offer only acute care, and aren’t staffed or equipped to deal with chronic conditions. They may be happy to refer out to you for long term care for diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc. Some of these clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners and may love to have the option to call on you for a consult. But to maintain an effective partnership, you need to help them also. Perhaps you can refer patients in need of evening or weekend treatment of fever and sprains. You can make it very easy for walk-in medical clinics to refer patients to your medical practice by providing the clinics with customized medical referral pads.

It’s never a good idea to bury your head in the sand when competition surfaces, and the competitive landscape changes. Marketing your medical practice well means keeping informed, getting to know neighborhood walk-in clinics, and cementing your proper place in the healthcare community.

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