The rapid rise of the convenient care clinic

Local providers are responding to demand for care that is easily delivered at an affordable price

GoHealth

Convenient care clinics, where patients receive on-demand primary or basic urgent care services, are quickly expanding in the Vancouver area and it’s a trend healthcare executives say won’t slow down any time soon.

ZOOM+, founded in Portland in 2006, is the largest and perhaps the most well-known convenient care clinic. In just the last year, the company has doubled in size, according to Dr. Dave Sanders, ZOOM+ CEO and founder.

With more than a dozen clinics in Portland, ZOOM+ operates two locations in Vancouver and the company is now expanding into Seattle.

Sander said the millennial generation is a “driving force” for the expansion convenient care clinics, noting that patients want to get primary care that is quickly and easily delivered at an affordable price.

Convenient care clinics are equal parts doctor’s office and emergency room. Patients can receive basic emergency care for a bad cold or flu, burns, sprains or broken bones before being referred to more specialized treatment if necessary. The clinics also provide basic primary care, such as annual exams, screenings, physicals and vaccines.

In 2014, Legacy Hospital Systems started Legacy GoHealth, its chain of convenient care clinics. A GoHealth clinic in Vancouver’s Cascade Park neighborhood opened in August 2015 and another clinic in Camas opened in December 2015. The clinics now average more than 1,000 patient visits a month.

A third Legacy GoHealth clinic, located in Vancouver’s Hazel Dell Marketplace, will open on October 6.

Kaiser Permanente is opening its first convenient care clinic in the Portland’s Pearl District this fall, and according to Dr. Rahul Rastogi, an emergency medicine doctor and vice president and CCO of Northwest Permanente, the plan is to open additional clinics in Southwest Washington.

“We recognize that there is a demand and an unmet need to have more of these convenient, smaller, more accessible locations,” Rastogi said.

Kaiser’s convenient care clinic will be staffed by one provider – likely a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant – as well as support staff. No on-site imaging or lab services will be available. If more specialized care is needed, Rastogi said the patient’s care will be coordinated with other Kaiser locations.

Rastogi and others said that a basic, bare-bones level of medical care is enough for the type of patients attracted to convenience care clinics.

Bryce Helgerson, president of Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, explained that convenient care clinics are geared toward the type of patient who “wants to book an appointment online, they want something pretty fast, and they may not have a loyal primary care doctor. It’s more episodic.

“This new generation of [patients] are consumers that want something quickly,” he added. “The episodic interaction is just fine with them. Some people know their doctor, trust their doctor, and that relationship is important. Other people have a sore throat and they want it looked at, and they need medications; they want the prescription. And that’s just fine.”

Convenience and accessibility are two hallmarks of the rapid expansion and success of convenient care clinics.

Jeff Gibson, Legacy Health’s director of joint venture facility development, said the location for Legacy GoHealth’s new Hazel Dell clinic was selected because it is in a population center with a busy traffic corridor.

That not only increases chances that the clinic will see a high number of patients, but it also brings healthcare services to a neighborhood and a community – something that Gibson and others said is an integral piece to the success of convenient care clinics.

“It’s part of a larger strategy for Salmon Creek to bring healthcare to the community…rather than the historic pattern of coming to the hospital for health care,” Gibson noted.

“It’s convenient and accessible for patients,” said Rastogi. “It brings the care closer to home.”

One way convenient care clinics cater to this new group of patients is by focusing on the customer service experience. ZOOM+, Legacy GoHealth and other convenient care clinics allow patients to schedule appointments online or with their smartphone. When a patient arrives, they are checked in by a medical assistant who can also immediately address any basic medical questions that they have.

The clinics are often staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, but patients are also able to communicate with primary care doctors or specialists via phone, internet or video.

“It’s a simple staffing model,” said Gibson.

It’s also cost-effective.

“If everything were located on a hospital campus, we would have to keep investing in an expensive resource to expand and build,” said Rastogi. “It’s a much less cost-intensive model.”

Not only are convenience care clinics affordable for the hospital systems running them, but they’re affordable for the patient as well. Typically, clinics charge a flat fee for services, which is often less than $100 a visit. For example, at Providence Express Care (part of the Providence Health & Services system) a standard visit is $99, but services like sports physicals ($50) and immunizations ($30) are significantly less.

Gibson said Legacy GoHealth clinics will provide care for no charge, if patients fit certain income requirements.

Helgerson explained that healthcare reform and the coinciding expansion of the population with health insurance coverage has put pressure on the industry to provide more effective and efficient preventive care, while keeping healthcare costs down by avoiding expensive services like emergency room visits.

“We’re focused on keeping people out of the hospital now,” he said. “This is a strategy to do that. These types of clinics are critical to the success of getting people healthy.”

“Many of these patients would normally interface through the emergency room,” said Rastogi. “The entry fee for the emergency room ranges between $700 and $1,000, even for minor stuff. For urgent care, it’s a couple hundred dollars, depending on where you go. These convenient care clinics are probably the most affordable setting.”

Even though convenient care clinics have become popular, Helgerson noted that the hospital and hospital system will still serve an important function in healthcare.

“Hospitals will not go away,” he said. “People will still have acute illnesses that they need to see us for. The volume of emergency room visits and the wait times have grown, so this is a way for people who have historically come to the ER for what is not an acute problem to get that taken care of in a location that makes more sense.”

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