Urgent care is one of the biggest growth areas of the healthcare industry. With a continuing trend toward outpatient care that started before the coronavirus pandemic and shows no signs of weakening, the demand for urgent care is primed for growth.
However, despite promising growth, the sector is not without its challenges. Most urgent care centers work with smaller margins than their hospital counterparts. In addition, choosing the right staffing model can be tricky due to unpredictable patient volumes. Leveraging staffing agencies gives urgent care center managers the support they need to optimize the facility’s earnings and sustain growth.
How Urgent Care is Growing
Over the last decade, the urgent care sector in the United States has seen significant growth. Statistics show that there were just over 6,000 urgent care centers in 2013. By 2019, the number had increased by more than 50%, with more than 9,600 centers operating across all 50 states.
Urgent care bridges the gap between primary care physicians and emergency room (ER) visits. Not all patients in need of medical assistance on the same day can make an appointment with their physician. For many, a costly visit to the ER was the only alternative for a non-critical condition that required urgent care.
Whether dealing with a sprained ankle, upper respiratory infection or gastrointestinal issues—without timely access to primary care, many Americans had little choice other than an ER visit. Urgent care clinics filled this exact space by offering same-day care, usually within less than an hour at a much more affordable cost.
During the pandemic, urgent care centers continued their growth trajectory. According to the Urgent Care Association, the number of patient visits increased by 60% since 2019. As hospital emergency rooms became temporarily overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, urgent care centers looked after a wide range of other conditions.
Why Urgent Care Staffing Can Be Challenging
At this point, the growth trend shows no signs of slowing. While that is good news for urgent care center owners, it also poses challenges. Center managers need to balance delivering outstanding patient care with cost-effective business practices that keep growth sustainable.
Strategic staffing is one of the keys to managing this balance between patient needs and business needs. Several aspects play a key role in getting the balance right:
- Hiring the right combination of medical and support staff
- Building flexibility into staffing to allow for a sudden influx of patients as well as steady growth
- Ensuring the facility can offer all medical care services at all open hours, including nights and weekends.
Urgent care staffing agencies are uniquely placed to assist urgent care facilities in dealing with these issues.
At first sight, none of the factors above appear particularly tricky. However, the healthcare sector in the United States is caught in a difficult situation. The industry itself is growing, with medical personnel in higher demand than before. At the same time, the ongoing labor shortage is affecting the medical sector, too. This combination is making the recruitment process harder for all healthcare facilities.
1. Hiring the Right Mix of Medical and Support Staff
The ratio of medical to clerical staff is critical to ensuring excellent patient care and smooth operations. Without sufficient medical staff, the facility simply cannot deliver the level of care patients deserve. Support staff is equally important as they handle billing and other administrative tasks, including credentialing new medical team members.
Neither side should be an afterthought in the business plan of any urgent care center, but where can you find the right staff? In many cases, professional or personal networks of existing team members are the best starting point. Ask your existing team for referrals to outstanding emergency care physicians who may be looking for a change of pace, for example.
Most nurse practitioners or physician assistants will also happily refer their peers if they enjoy working in an urgent care facility. Perhaps they also know of people who have only recently moved to the area and are looking for a new opportunity. Do not be afraid to approach the right professionals proactively.
Because of the current staff shortage in the medical sector, it may still take time to select and recruit the right permanent team members. That is when staffing agencies can help, either by providing short-term medical and administrative support or by referring long-term to permanent candidates.
2. Building Flexibility into Staffing
Urgent care centers receive walk-in patients, often making it impossible to plan how many people their team will treat on a given day. That means, one of the biggest challenges that center managers have is to decide how many staff members to hire for a new center. Over time, it becomes easier to recognize patterns like busier weekends or quiet weeknights.
However, new facilities rarely have the luxury of estimating exact patient numbers. If they hire too many medical and clerical team members, the company’s bottom line will suffer. If there are not enough medical professionals, patients may face a long wait or even need to be turned away. Both scenarios can end up detrimental to the facility. Too little staff will hamper growth when patients are being turned away. Too many staff members hurt profitability.
Establishing a relationship with a proven urgent care staffing partner can help take care of both issues. When patient levels increase, either organically, or for example, after a major accident or natural catastrophe, agencies can provide additional staff. As a result, the urgent care center can grow with the peace of mind of knowing that a strong temporary team is in place while permanent staff members are being recruited.
3. Ensuring Full Medical Coverage at Night and on Weekends
There are no set business hours for many urgent care centers. People fall ill or have accidents at night, on weekends, or first thing in the morning. To deliver the highest levels of urgent ambulatory patient care, urgent care centers need to ensure sufficient core team staffing around the clock.
Here is an example: most urgent care centers can handle simple fractures and offer basic laboratory services. Once committed to those services, they need to ensure staff members can cover them whenever the center is open. That does not mean asking a radiology technician to be on call 24/7. Instead, employers need to look at cross-training more team members to cover their colleagues’ functions on occasion.
When that is not possible, staffing agencies can help and provide the specialist team members needed.
How Staffing Models Influence Urgent Care Costs
Choosing the most suitable staffing model for an urgent care center strongly influences the facility’s running costs and its ability to run profitably. We have previously discussed staffing models, but here is another look.
Depending on how well established an urgent care center is, different staffing models work best. Physician-only staffing may work well in the early stages when a center is establishing a patient base. Once patient numbers increase, this model tends to become expensive.
A mixed model combines one or more urgent care physicians with physician assistants and nurse practitioners. At this stage, a greater volume of patients can be supported by both mid-level and top-level staff.
A mid-level staffing model relies entirely on nurses and assistants. While this may be cheaper initially and work well for less severe cases, there is a danger of losing business if the facility has to turn away more complex cases.
Establishing a strong agency relationship now is one of the safest ways for urgent care facilities to maintain staffing levels. To learn more, contact our team today.