Atlantic Health System joins forces with MedExpress to expand access to urgent care

Patients in a hospital waiting room
Atlantic Health System and MedExpress are teaming up to operate 11 urgent care centers. (Getty/SuwanPhoto)

New Jersey-based Atlantic Health System is teaming up with MedExpress to coordinate care between urgent care centers and the integrated delivery system.

Atlantic Health and MedExpress will jointly operate and own 11 urgent care clinics in the northern part of the state, the two groups announced.

Patients who visit one of these clinics can visit an Atlantic Health hospital or other facility within the system if they need more specialized care than an urgent care clinic can provide, and the 11 clinics will work as an "extension" of services offered to Atlantic Health's patients.

"The ultimate goal is to deliver on our mission—to build healthier communities," Amy Perry, senior vice president of integrated care delivery and CEO of Atlantic Health's hospital division, told FierceHealthcare. "That means we are working to create an all-inclusive network that can care for every health need throughout the continuum of care."

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Perry said that the two entities complement each other well, as Atlantic Health's more than 400 sites of care offer patients options beyond traditional urgent care. Atlantic Health is actively pursuing partnerships that can expand its capabilities and improve patient care, she said. Teaming up with MedExpress allowed it to do so without "duplicating expensive resources."

MedExpress, which is owned by UnitedHealth subsidiary Optum, operates about 200 urgent care centers across the country.

Amid the industry's ongoing merger-mania, many healthcare organizations are turning to strategic partnerships and alignments to broaden their capabilities without the need to fully merge or invest in new construction.

Analysts at Kaufman Hall, for example, have noted the trend over the past several years.

"The cost-cutting mantra of 'do more with less' is juxtaposed with a new imperative—'do more with more,'" the group said in a recent report on merger activity. "As organizations look at what they lack and select strategies for closing the gaps, the response has been strategic partnerships to create broader, richer and more complementary portfolios."

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The partnership also comes amid an increasing focus on convenience care, including urgent care, in an effort to reduce costs and ease overcrowding. Urgent care centers and freestanding emergency rooms can address many acute care needs at a lower cost than a traditional hospital emergency department.

These nontraditional sites of care are especially popular with millennials, who prioritize convenience and experience over having a longstanding relationship with a certain provider. However, they're also contributing to the increasing cost of care, experts say, as utilization rates rise.

Perry said that Atlantic Health's patients have pushed for greater access to these nontraditional sites of care, particularly as they're more affordable.

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