Preparing for Urgent Care Busy Season and Anticipated Second COVID Wave with Health IT

The following is a guest article by Kimberly Commito, senior vice president product management at Experity.

While still considered busy, the summer months are usually a slower time for urgent care clinics compared to the influx that clinics experience in fall and winter. During the first week of June, U.S. urgent care clinics saw an average volume of 160 visits, which reflects the notion from many industry experts that urgent care clinics have been underutilized and overlooked in the value they can bring in the fight against COVID-19.

However, this might not be the case in the next few months. In general, urgent care typically sees a significant spike in patient volumes during fall and winter when back-to-school checkups and flu and cold season ramp up. This year, that uptick may be exacerbated by the anticipated second spike of COVID-19. Unlike the first wave, urgent care clinics will likely play a larger role in COVID-19 testing and treatment, as more clinics prepare for expanded testing capabilities in tandem with the rapid effort to find new drugs, such as dexamethasone.

If the virus’ initial strain on the health system is any indication, it’s clear that urgent care clinics must prepare for what could be their busiest season yet. While clinics have the bandwidth for planning during this slower period, they specifically should evaluate their IT solutions to determine whether those platforms can improve their efficiency.

Health IT is Key to Preparing for Patient Influx

For the fast-moving and unpredictable urgent care space, providers and staff depend on EMR and other HIT functionalities that enable more speed, efficiency, and accuracy to treat high volumes of patients as seamlessly and safely as possible. While technology solutions are important for urgent cares year-round, technological optimization and preparedness becomes crucial when potentially facing a busy season combined with COVID-19.

There are several ways urgent cares can optimize their technology integrations, including:

1. Remote Triage and Telehealth Services

When dealing with an infectious disease like COVID-19, limiting unnecessary physical interactions between providers and patients is paramount. In the past four months, urgent care clinics across the country have benefited from triaging patients remotely through innovative IT solutions. The value of those solutions will only increase during an influx of COVID-19 test and care requests.

Remote patient check-in and registration is an important first step to minimize contact between staff and patients. Additionally, text messaging services within triage applications can help urgent care staff identify at-risk patients before they enter the clinic. Identifying at-risk patients at the outset is key to keeping your staff safe and containing the infection.

2. EMR Functionalities to Support Continued Care

The line between urgent care and primary care has blurred in recent years, and the movement toward a hybrid model highlights its value during the pandemic. A growing number of urgent cares are adding primary care services to their offerings to support their growing clientele. Not only does this take pressure off other areas of the healthcare system, but it provides expanded care access for patients across the country.

With communities currently on various states of lockdown, countless patients are staying away from physician offices and hospitals with fear of being exposed to the virus. This results in missed appointments and delayed procedures for overall health check-ups, chronic conditions, medications, and more. As patients increasingly choose urgent care settings to receive such care offerings traditionally served in a primary care setting, it is pivotal for clinics to efficiently manage, track and document both short and longer-term care visits directly in their EMR platform to efficiently care for both types of patients.

For example, EMRs that allow providers to easily review a patient’s visit history and document their acute and chronic problems in one central screen better position clinics to provide quick and informed treatment. Other functionalities that promote efficient care include a history and tracking grid to view past labs and vital signs, along with a referral management page to easily manage, schedule, and follow up on referral orders.

3. Highly Effective Patient Engagement and Better Experiences

Unlike traditional care settings, urgent care providers deal with a higher number of new patients. Without a long-standing relationship with these patients, it can be more difficult to engage with them in a meaningful way. Engagement is important to not only make their visit more efficient and effective after the fact, but also to hopefully encourage patients to continue seeking care at their site moving forward. During a time when confusion and fear is at a high, clinics must provide patients with the information they need for a better care experience both at the clinic and throughout their full care journeys.

While online patient engagement tools such as digital portals, online self-scheduling, and satisfaction surveys have been a central application for urgent care providers, health technology can add a new level of efficiency beyond the traditional visit experience.

For example, mobile functionality that enables functions such as patient registration adds convenience for patients and increases accuracy in the electronic record. This simple change leads to smoother processing of claims, fewer rejections, and quicker payment. It also reduces administrative burden by simplifying the workload of the front desk and improves the revenue cycle for providers, while also giving your patients peace of mind and shortening their in-clinic wait time.

Patients want transparency throughout the medical process, which often means providing a single view of their comprehensive medical record, increasing the need for accurate electronic data sharing from provider to provider in the patient’s continuum of care. Because many patients receive referrals to a secondary care site after an urgent care visit, it’s essential that clinic EMR platforms interface with other providers seamlessly to collaborate and determine the best next step for all patients.

As we continue to navigate through the pandemic and define a new normal in its aftermath, health technology cornerstones such as EMRs will play a major role in the future of urgent care. If used optimally, it can make a difference in handling patient surge and enable providers to care for high volumes of patients more efficiently and safely.

About Kimberly Commito

Kimberly Commito is the senior vice president product management at Experity, the leading electronic medical records (EMR) and practice management (PM) platform in the urgent care space. With nearly three decades of industry experience, Kim has watched the healthcare market evolve. In her role at Experity, she’s taking talented, product-focused people and helping them work as a dynamic team bringing innovative solutions to the urgent care market.