Urgent message: As urgent care centers look to differentiate themselves in saturated and competitive markets, a concerted effort to make their centers more “kid-friendly” will hold great appeal to the “soccer mom” demographic that represents their primary marketing target.
Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.
Urgent care experienced rapid growth in its beginning stages partly due to its appeal to the “soccer moms” of suburban America where the first centers sprang up. Picture an on-the-go mom with active, school-aged kids in tow, constantly tending to the scrapes, sniffles, and boo-boos that are an inevitable part of childhood. Having an urgent care center in front of their nearby supermarket was a boon for those time-strapped suburban moms who couldn’t wait days for a primary care appointment and loathed an hours-long wait in a crowded ED.
Today, with urgent care in virtually every market and appealing to a much broader audience, it still markets heavily to that soccer mom demographic as the first place to turn when your 7-year-old suddenly springs a fever and ear infection at 6 pm. Competition remains fierce in the on-demand healthcare space, though, and conventional urgent care centers now find themselves competing for those moms with a newer disruptive market entrant: pediatric urgent care.
Indeed, “pediatric” urgent care is disrupting an already crowded market that is not only experiencing an oversaturation of competition, but the effects of consumer “commoditization” insofar as many people not being able to differentiate the myriad providers from one another. Meaning, in the consumer’s mind, there are few standout brands on the larger urgent care operator playing field.
The anecdotal feedback we get when we conduct consumer focus groups is further revealing, and sheds a brighter light on the topic. We pose these types of question to consumers: “You’ve told us you take your kids to ‘Urgent Care A,’ which is a 10-minute drive from your home. If a new urgent care were to open 5 minutes closer, would you give them a try?” Given that there is typically no brand differentiation in their minds, the response is often ambivalent—a “maybe/maybe not” proposition. On the other hand, when asked, “If a pediatric urgent care were to open, but it was a 15-minute drive to get there, would you make the effort?” The core urgent care consumer (ie, the soccer mom) almost unanimously says Yes, reasoning, “It’s pediatric, so it’s better.”
The charge for conventional urgent care, therefore, is to make a concerted effort to better appeal to mom and child, and recapture those consumers who would otherwise trade the convenience of proximity for what they perceive as a superior care option. Granted, pediatric urgent care has several built-in advantages in its appeal to moms and kids over conventional urgent care:
- They tend to staff with pediatricians who are trained and accustomed to working with children every day, so they’re likely to be good at easing anxiety and communicating with children at every developmental stage. Many utilize moonlighting pediatricians, which allows the centers to offer even later opening hours—sometimes until midnight.
- Their entire décor is designed to evoke an inviting, safe, and soothing environment that stands in stark contrast to cold and sterile medical offices.
- The moonlighting pediatricians are a source of referrals from their main practice. This offers a competitive advantage as many pediatricians will steer their patients away from conventional urgent care.
How You Can Compete
Conventional urgent care can, however, implement competitive strategies and processes (and even borrow from pediatric urgent care in some cases) that demonstrate it likewise provides a differentiated, satisfying experience for moms and their kids—especially those on the fence as to whether they need to make an extra effort to specifically seek out a pediatric urgent care. A few examples:
- Address the mother as “Mom” throughout the visit. Pediatric urgent care differentiators do this, and there’s no reason conventional urgent care can’t do the same. The pediatric medical assistants and front office staff will say “Mom, can you sign this?” or “Here, Mom, come this way.” This greatly appeals to “Mom” as the decision maker and pays deference to her critical role in helping the child. And no matter how great the staff and center is, the child can’t heal or recover if Mom isn’t driving the process.
- Designate an area of your lobby/waiting area to children. Children-sized table and chair sets, tablets with preloaded games, toys, puzzles, coloring books, and stuffed animals can help lessen the anxiety, distract the child from their injury or illness, and set a positive tone for the rest of the visit.
- Especially for younger children, encourage the parent to hold the child during procedures when appropriate. This makes the child feel safe and less anxious and can provide comfort to the mom as well.
- Actively involve the child in their own care. If the patient is old enough, the staff can explain the process to the child in a way that they understand. They can encourage the kids to ask questions, show them the medical supplies and equipment they’ll be using, and offer them options where it’s appropriate. Employ distraction techniques like asking the child to count something or describe their favorite toy, game, or friend when necessary.
While it will likely never own the pediatric niche, conventional urgent care can take steps to move toward leveling the playing field by borrowing from pediatric urgent care when appropriate and incorporating more kid-friendly practices in their delivery model. As competition intensifies and differentiation becomes paramount, urgent care operators who clearly put forth the effort to demonstrate they should be the soccer mom’s first choice position themselves to be exactly that.