Patient demand for convenience is reshaping local health care.
Patients are setting up appointments online and visiting with providers over video chat, while primary care doctors are navigating a medical landscape with more competing walk-in options such as urgent care centers and grocery store clinics with increased services.
“It is dramatically changing what we do, there’s no doubt about it,” said Ted Inman, CEO of PriMed Physician, a physician-owned group based in Dayton. “We’re having to invest in more and more technology, but at the end of day it typically is cheaper, you just need to go through the process to get there.”
Demand for convenience has fueled more on-demand health care options, mirroring trends in other industries such as the rise of grocery delivery and online shopping.
The number of retail clinics in the U.S. grew from around 1,400 to 2,800 between 2012 and 2015, according to research firm Accenture. And there are about 8,700 urgent cares in the U.S., up from 6,400 in 2014, according to the Urgent Care Association.
New technology has enabled the sweeping changes and led to industry disruption.
Several insurance companies have launched their own telemedicine initiatives for their members to video chat with in-house providers. In addition, some health care startups are also looking to grab marketshare from traditional health care players by pushing their convenience, such as apps that let you get birth control prescribed over your phone and home delivered.
Inman said they navigate the demand for convenience means steps like having on-call nurses, having pediatric offices with late hours and same day appointments for pediatrics. PriMed plans to invest in some type of e-visiting technology, but is still working on the timing of the change, which would mean a sizable IT investment.
It also means primary care providers making a case for their distinct value, such as a long-term relationship and wellness visits instead of episodic visits for illness with a different provider each time.
“They don’t have your medical records. We have the convenience of always having your medical records right there,” said Dawn Kerr, regional operations manager for Providence Medical Group, which started video visits in 2017.
Kerr said interest has been slowly growing as word gets out about the option and some providers with the practice group work after hours so they can visit with patients online.
She said they promote that it has the same co-pay as an in-person visit and saves the drive time to the office.
“Patients just love the convenience. People who are getting ready to go on vacation and the last minute they are sick, people who are about out of medications, some college students,” she said.
What’s convenient for patients, however, might not always be convenient for doctors. Keeping up with the flexibility of an express clinic or the convenience of an insurer’s video chat service can mean providers working later or differently, and also can mean a large upfront technology investment for practices.
Inman said it’s a balancing act that requires working with providers and becoming more flexible and consumer driven. Ultimately, he said some of these changes should help save practices time, such as patients setting up their own appointments online, having digital access to health care information and saving doctors from phone calls.
Inman said some patients might end up in the wrong setting for the type of treatment they need because it is the most convenient setting. When practices have convenient options, such as online visits, he said the convenience can also mean a patient being able to be seen who might not have otherwise.
“If someone can be seen as opposed to not or at least have contact as opposed to not, the chances are that they aren’t going to end up inappropriately in the emergency department which is the highest cost place of care,” Inman said.