Urgent message: Patients may find it difficult to understand when it makes the most sense to visit your urgent care locations if the level of acuity varies from one location to the next. Instituting repeatable processes and creating a consistent “brand promise” are essential to building a stable identity and making it easy for patients to trust your operation.
Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Practice Velocity, LLC and is Practice Management Editor for The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.
WellSpan Health in central Pennsylvania faced a significant business challenge that was keeping the system from growing its urgent care footprint: inconsistency.
In its efforts to set up walk-in healthcare services that were appropriate for specific local communities, the healthcare system ended up with a disjointed regional strategy that was difficult to promote beyond the community level. The result of WellSpan’s local efforts was a mix of retail clinics in supermarkets, shopping center clinics staffed by nurse practitioners, full-service urgent care centers, and full-service urgent care centers that charged facility fees. The varying service levels, pricing, and hours of operation made it very challenging to market WellSpan’s urgent care services as a consistent product.
Their solution? A full alignment of its walk-in practices around the true urgent care model.
As detailed by Lancaster.com, WellSpan will launch a full rebranding with new hours and services starting January 15, 2018. WellSpan’s walk-in centers, which were previously called by various names—QuickCare, WellSpan CareExpress, and WellSpan ReadyCare—will be renamed WellSpan Urgent Care. All of the centers will be open from 8 am–8 pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. They will all accept patients as young as 3 months old, and patients will be able to make reservations for specific appointment times. As WellSpan rolls out these changes, it will also include patient education elements in its messaging, emphasizing when it is appropriate to use an urgent care center vs the emergency department. The health system also plans to seek accreditation through the Urgent Care Association of America for all of the centers within the first 6 months of 2018.
Investing in Growth Through Scalable, Repeatable Processes
WellSpan invested in the growth of its walk-in business by implementing repeatable processes that made its operating model scalable, a vital strategy for any urgent care practice that wants to grow beyond a single facility. Repeatable processes are necessary for growth because they make an urgent care model scalable, meaning they’re able to accommodate increased volume.
As organizations grow, they become increasingly complex, with more and more products, systems, and protocols—which can be overwhelming to staff. Without consistent processes that can be repeated across centers, an urgent care’s operating model simply isn’t scalable, and its growth often stalls.
Most urgent care operators don’t think about the future of their businesses when evaluating whether a healthcare service is appropriate for a local market. They end up entering a market without considering the regional impact, and the processes they establish at those local centers remain isolated to each individual location.
A repeatable process is a task that can be performed multiple times with a certain level of predictability for the quality of the output. For example, the patient registration process should be standardized so that the steps can be trained to employees the same way every time. Urgent care centers that don’t establish repeatable processes end up with employees who:
- Waste time recreating processes every time they need to be performed or trained
- Perform their jobs on-the-fly because there are no standards for how to do them
- Vary in the quality of their performances and attention to detail
The effect of this lack of standardization inevitably trickles down to patients, who experience a significant variation in the “brand promise” from center to center.
How to Create Repeatable Processes
If an urgent care practice expects to grow, it must develop a “playbook” or manual of repeatable processes that can easily be passed on to additional centers if the practice is to grow. The manual should include:
- Roles and responsibilities
- Policies and procedures
- Various other job aids
The first step to standardizing operations is to document all of the processes and procedures in place at the urgent care center today. Engage front-line staff, medical providers, center support staff, and senior management through brainstorming sessions, individual interviews, and direct observation. Once these processes are understood, identify the measures around those processes, such as time, quantity, errors, cost, supplies, resources, and profits tied to performance so these processes can be monitored over time. Key stakeholders, including front-line staff, providers, support staff, and even patients should be engaged periodically in reviewing and suggesting improvements to the processes until they have been tried and tested.
The keys to developing scalable, repeatable processes are simplicity and flexibility. Focus on developing processes and systems that are easy to use and that can be adjusted as your business grows and changes.