Urgent care clinics use fast-food industry tactics to deliver affordable, efficient healthcare

Urgent care clinic owners glean business lessons from McDonald's to help deliver accessible and efficient healthcare, according to an article in Forbes.

Like the fast-food industry, location, branding, efficiency and convenience are key, and have health systems and hospitals across the country acquiring urgent care facilities quickly. Bruce Irwin, M.D., founder and CEO of American Family Care, has been in the business for more than 30 years, pushing affordability and accessibility. With 128 clinics, American Family Care is the largest independent urgent care chain in the country.

Irwin's clinics eliminate appointments and cut down on wait times, while boasting in-house pharmacies, digital X-ray machines and drug test facilities on site, along with waiting rooms with flat-screen televisions and wireless Internet access, according to the article. Insurance, billing, purchasing, hiring and certification duties are outsourced to one centralized office, leaving employees free to make follow-up calls to patients. "Why can't you get good health care as easily as you get fast food?" asks Irwin.

And the public is gobbling up what Irwin's urgent care clinics are selling, especially when urgent care treatment comes at just a fraction of the cost of treatment in hospital emergency departments. In the last five years, American Family Care grew from 17 stores and $50 million in revenue to 128 locations and $200 million in sales. He isn't the only one expanding. NextCare, an Arizona chain owned by Enhanced Equity Funds, grew from 54 clinics in 2010 to 106 this year, using roll-up strategies to integrate physician founded clinic chains, according to Forbes. Urgent care clinics are projected to grow to more than 12,000 by 2019.

Franchise owners don't have to have a background in medicine to succeed--in fact, many of them don't. Former financial advisors, private equity groups and venture capital firms are all getting in on the lucrative business model.

Not everyone thinks retail clinics improve overall health. Retain clinics need to play a larger role in helping patients feed into hospitals for a broader network of services, Kenneth Davis, M.D., CEO of Mount Sinai Health System in New York state, told Forbes. "We need patients to get connected in some way that provides follow-up and continuity of care, rather than just episodic," he said. "[Urgent care] is no way to prevent disease or maximize outcomes."

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- here's the article