By Ethan Popowitz
In recent years, patients everywhere have started to care more about the location they choose to receive care.
Convenience, accessibility, and, of course, cost are more important than ever to patients, and they’re proving it by stepping away from the doctor’s office or the ER and instead choosing an outpatient clinic.
This is part two of a blog series covering the growing popularity of outpatient clinics. In part one, we explored some of the top trends in outpatient care, including the rise of clinic procedures, where the most active outpatient centers are located, and how urgent care centers helped during the pandemic.
In this post, we’ll continue our analysis with a discussion around some of the reasons why more patients prefer going to outpatient centers, including:
- Outpatient centers are more accessible and more convenient
- Reasonable, transparent pricing draws in patients
- New technology and techniques
1. Outpatient centers are more accessible and more convenient
Compared to visiting your primary care physician (PCP), outpatient clinics are potentially more convenient and more affordable alternatives. Each type of outpatient facility offers multiple services.
Retail clinics like CVS and Walmart can diagnose and treat minor illnesses and injuries like the flu, sprains, minor cuts, and allergies among other conditions. It’s also common for these places to offer vaccinations and some diagnostic services like health screenings and blood sampling. Because retail clinics are “walk-in” and ubiquitous, many patients likely prefer the convenience and accessibility these facilities offer over carving time out of one’s day to go to the doctor for a relatively minor condition.
Rural health clinics and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) provide much-needed primary care services to low-income and underserved communities. For patients living in rural areas, who sometimes must travel up to 70 miles or more to receive care at a hospital, these outpatient centers are preferable alternatives. Many of them also provide mental and behavioral health services to patients in rural areas who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive care due to barriers such as accessibility.
2. Reasonable, transparent pricing draws in patients
If you’ve ever worried about the cost of a test or procedure, then an outpatient center may be the choice for you. The high cost of healthcare is regularly cited as a major barrier to care. According to a 2021 Gallup poll, three in 10 patients neglected to receive medical care at least once in the previous three months due to high costs.
Some consumers concerned about lower costs have shifted to retail clinics and urgent care centers to receive more reasonably priced care. A study published in the National Library of Medicine reported that a fixed, transparent pricing model was the primary reason that patients chose to visit a retail clinic. These locations have a listed ‘menu’ of services available, and their costs make it clear to patients what kind of care they can receive.
Patients can also reap cost savings by visiting an urgent care center over a hospital for certain procedures. According to Debt.org, treating a non-life-threatening condition in the emergency room can cost up to five times more than treatment at an urgent care facility. BlueCross BlueShield reports that certain surgical procedures can be 30 to 40% more affordable when performed in an outpatient facility. The BCBS report explains that an inpatient knee or hip replacement that costs $30,000 could be as low as $19,000 in an outpatient setting.
Why is there such a dramatic difference in cost? According to NPR, facility overhead is expensive. Although charges may vary wildly between hospitals, keeping the facility running 24/7 can lead to patients paying hundreds of dollars in extra fees. Inpatient care also tends to be significantly more complex than outpatient care and, as a result, more costly. Most patients who receive outpatient care can avoid hefty fees related to equipment and supplies, staffing costs, and other operational expenses, as patients can recover at home.
3. New technology and techniques
As I described above, clinics provide a wide range of services in one convenient location. This variety is made possible due to advancements in technology and new procedure techniques that reduce the likelihood of a patient having to stay the night at a hospital.
According to a report by Deloitte, “many surgeries and medical procedures that once required an inpatient stay can now be performed safely in an outpatient setting.” The report goes on to say how new techniques for administering anesthesia and performing minimally invasive surgeries are helping to prevent complications and reduce recovery time and cost.
Outpatient clinics are also using technology like telemedicine systems to improve outcomes. The American Medical Association suggests telehealth consultations can lead to improved patient satisfaction, clinical outcomes, and reduced hospital admissions.
What it all means
Where patients receive care matters, especially in terms of costs, convenience, and accessibility. As the healthcare ecosystem continues to shift, unique opportunities have presented themselves for organizations to better meet patient demand, improve outcomes, and grow their business.
For companies selling into the outpatient clinic space, the trends we discussed in part one and the reasons shared above can help take your marketing and sales planning to the next level. You can use that healthcare commercial intelligence to get a better view of the market and strengthen your strategies. Sign up for a free trial today to get started.