Imagine this–a child falls on the playground and seems to have fractured an ankle. Where would the parent or caregiver likely take them for care? Many would immediately turn to the emergency room, illustrating a missed opportunity for urgent care centers.
Instead of being the first choice for more complex care, urgent care centers that refer out patients with high acuity needs risk losing their reputation for competency, according to John Koehler, MD, ABPM (OM). As a board member of the Urgent Care Association, he wrote a recent plea to fellow urgent care operators in the Journal of Urgent Care Medicine to reassess their in-office capabilities to avoid acuity degradation.
What is Acuity Degradation?
Acuity degradation happens when an urgent care refers patients to specialists more often than they choose to treat them on-site or virtually through their providers. While some injuries and conditions require a more intense treatment protocol than urgent care is prepared to provide, urgent care professionals can handle most situations.
By watering down the level of acuity that they are willing to treat themselves, they also change the perception of their business as a whole. Instead of being a destination for top-quality care, they become a clearinghouse or triage unit for more high acuity providers.
While acuity degradation may not seem dire, it has long-term impacts. Suppose your urgent care becomes known as a triage point for more intensive care. In that case, patients may decide to forgo urgent care entirely in favor of hospitals or orthopedic providers–the places where urgent care is sending them.
And it’s not just the patient perspective that changes–insurance companies may choose to change their payment contracts if they consider an urgent care a ‘triage center’ rather than a true care provider. Those contracts can impact your bottom line in a big way.
How to Reverse Acuity Degradation
While acuity degradation can happen gradually and seem like a surprise, with a concerted effort, urgent cares can reverse course to provide better care and increase revenue streams in a few easy steps
- Analyze your referrals–look at your referral codes. What types of diagnoses are you referring out most often? Why are you choosing to refer them rather than treat them?
- Assess your talent pool–Do you have the clinicians to handle more complex cases? If you do, are they operating at the top of their skill level or choosing to address a higher volume of lower acuity cases rather than a few complex cases?
- Analyze your income streams–if you have the staff and skill level, try to ascertain how to funnel higher acuity cases into the right hands in-house. Your reputation can quickly go from referral clinic to destination for care, successfully handling high acuity cases.
Once you understand why you’re sending patients elsewhere, you can create opportunities to accommodate high acuity patients within your workflow. This may even be an opportunity point for new revenue streams in some cases. Offering orthopedic services, workman’s comp support, or burn treatment may make you a new destination for care.
Solv Offers Tools To Make It Happen
While seeing your referrals and incoming patient descriptions is eye-opening, so is the reality of trying to balance your caseload as you decide to accept and treat more complex cases. Now is the time to turn the word ‘triage’ into a benefit and find ways to balance your caseloads to allow space for more intensive treatment.
One way to do that is by utilizing multiple queues for scheduling. With Solv Experience, operators can incorporate multiple queues into their workflows to see up to 15 patient profiles side by side. Staff can then assess which providers need more time for more complex treatments and how to assign lower acuity patients that can be seen quickly and efficiently, lowering their wait time and resulting in happier patients and providers.
When you’ve funneled patients into the appropriate provider queues, your staff can take a deep breath, knowing that your patients will receive the most appropriate care for their situation, reducing wait times and increasing patient satisfaction and costs. Creating opportunities for high acuity care also creates a reputation as a reliable destination for treating a wide variety of situations.
Urgent care centers are in a precarious position–you want to provide quality care for a broad section of the community and don’t want to overwhelm staff and providers. By knowing your patient base and provider ability, you can tailor your services to do the most good.
Interested in enabling a multi-queue workflow at your clinics? Let us know if we can help!