Recent research on the 83 million young Americans who were born between 1981 and 1996 suggest rough waters ahead for independent pediatricians. This population group - popularly known as “millennials” - is now the nation’s biggest generation. Because of their age, they are also starting families, and treating their children represents a huge opportunity for pediatricians.
Unfortunately, the latest research from Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that these young parents are often forgoing the primary care model in favor of free-standing, urgent care facilities. Also known as 'minute clinics,' these facilities are favored by millennials for several reasons, including their perceived convenience, fast service, connectivity and pricing transparency.
First the Bad News
The results of the above research noted that,
“many young adults are turning to a fast-growing constellation of alternatives: retail clinics carved out of drugstores or big-box retail outlets, freestanding urgent care centers that tout evening and weekend hours, and online telemedicine sites that offer virtual visits without having to leave home. Unlike doctors’ offices, where charges are often opaque and disclosed only after services are rendered, many clinics and telemedicine sites post their prices.”
There seems to be a generational shift when it comes to primary care. A national poll of 1,200 randomly selected adults conducted in July 2018 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 26 percent said they did not have a primary care provider. There was a pronounced difference among age groups: 45 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had no primary care provider, compared with 28 percent of those 30 to 49, 18 percent of those 50 to 64 and 12 percent age 65 and older.
It is not necessary to have an advanced degree in consumer research to see a trend here. If they are changing their preferences for urgent care facilities, there is a possibility that these young parents will continue this practice when it comes to their children. That is, unless independent pediatricians offer good reasons to the contrary.
The Potential Hazards of High-Volume Urgent Care Clinics
Part of the challenge that these freestanding clinics must face is directly related to their success. They are designed to process many patients, very quickly. When dealing with a large volume of patients, mistakes are more likely to occur and, if these have to do with the medical care, this is a serious problem.
According to a report in JAMA Internal Medicine “nearly half of patients who sought treatment at an urgent care clinic for a cold, the flu or a similar respiratory ailment left with an unnecessary and potentially harmful prescription for antibiotics, compared with 17 percent of those seen in a doctor’s office. Antibiotics are useless against viruses and may expose patients to severe side effects with just a single dose.”
These urgent care facilities also obviate the benefits of a Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH). This highly regarded program is a care delivery model where patient treatment is coordinated through their primary care physician. It was designed to ensure patients receive the necessary care when and where they need it, in a manner they can understand.
“The objective of a PCMH is to have a centralized setting that facilitates partnerships between individual patients, and their personal physicians, and when appropriate, the patient’s family. Care is facilitated by registries, information technology, health information exchange and other means to assure that patients get the indicated care when and where they need and want it in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.”
With the right tools, an independent pediatrician can meet these important PCMH objectives and successfully compete with these 'minute clinics.' One of those tools is a pediatric-focused electronic health records (EHR) system.
The BIG Question
Why would a young parent choose an independent pediatrician over the dozens of freestanding, urgent care facilities, some of which are located around the corner? In the consumer research associated with the healthcare decisions made by this group, “convenience” is touted as their primary motivation. It is important to realize that this convenience is a catch-all phrase for several factors: multiple locations that might be near residential areas, the option for walk-in appointments, weekend hours, online billing and payments, health insurance processing and other services.
It is impossible for an independent pediatric practice to have the large number of locations that make up the hundreds of chains of urgent care facilities. There will ALWAYS be more 'minute clinics' than pediatric clinics. That game is over. The minute clinics won the real estate contest!
However, a well-managed pediatric practice can use technology - which millennial parents have grown up with - to deliver quality medical services in a manner that meets this group’s expectations for convenience and efficiency. In the process, the pediatrician can build a profitable business.
Taking Advantage of the “Secret Sauce” of Pediatrics
A pediatric-focused EHR, such as PCC’s, can help streamline patient visits and allow the independent pediatrician to successfully compete with a freestanding urgent care clinic. PCC EHR and Practice Management software can help pediatric clinics:
- Electronically remind parents and schedule well visits
- Track immunizations
- Maintain all healthcare records for every child in the family
- Verify insurance eligibility
- Manage online bill-paying via the Patient Portal
- Present opportunities for counseling children and parents on health matters
Most importantly, an EHR that enables clinical and administrative processes to be efficiently managed, allows the practitioner to focus on the “secret sauce” of the pediatrics specialty: preventive care.
The business plan of retail clinics relies on patient volume that must be processed through the system rapidly. As such, these clinics are not designed for long term patient engagement and preventive care. They are more like a factory and less like a medical practice.
Using PCC EHR to schedule and track immunizations and well visits and to monitor chronic conditions such as obesity, asthma, and diabetes allows the pediatrician to develop a long-term relationship with the child and the parent. This type of preventive care is virtually impossible for retail clinics to deliver and thus it is a distinct business advantage for a pediatric practice.
When young parents are made aware of these advantages through such marketing tools as a well-designed website, email marketing, and in-clinic informational materials, many will realize how important a full-time independent pediatrician is to the health of their child.