Four clinics integrated with a big St. Louis hospital have expanded their menu of services, boosting patient visits at the low-cost settings and starving off competition.and starving off competition.

Financial payment models and shifting patient patterns are rapidly transforming the healthcare industry.

St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis is banking on the urgent care center (UCC) becoming a new center of gravity in healthcare.

In a HealthLeaders Media webcast tomorrow, a pair of St. Anthony’s executives will detail how the 767-bed hospital has redesigned four wholly owned urgent care centers into more robust players in the organization’s game plan for the continuum of care.

The ongoing initiative includes slashing UCC patient transfer times to the St. Anthony’s emergency department and providing a “blended model” of UCC services, which features not only acute care but also occupational medicine and health and wellness programs.

Webcast presenter Charles Lewis, MSN, RN, executive director of emergency services and ambulatory care at St. Anthony’s, says the four UCCs are staffed to provide a broader array of services than most standalone or business-chain urgent care centers.

“We staff our urgent care centers with board-certified physicians and midlevel providers who are supported by a mission-ready workforce. This staffing enables each urgent care center to provide care and services to a multitude of patient types: urgent illness or injury, occupational medicine and workplace injury, preventive health, outpatient lab, and imaging. The urgent care centers also serve as an alternative care site when patients cannot see their primary care physicians,” Lewis told me this week.

Under St. Anthony’s UCC model, each urgent care facility has a minimum of eight staff members on duty. In addition to clinical staff such as physicians and lab technicians, the roster includes an occupational medicine doctor and at least one occupational medicine technician.

St. Anthony’s has been in the urgent care center business for two decades, assembling its foursome of UCC facilities through a combination of acquisitions and internal development. With dozens of rival UCCs in the St. Louis metropolitan area, competition is a major challenge. The revamped St. Anthony’s UCCs have reversed a downward trend in patient visits, according to Lewis and his HealthLeaders webcast co-presenter, Beverly Bokovitz, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer at the medical center.

“Our urgent care centers provide care for almost 80,000 patients each year, and they serve a multitude of patient types,” Lewis says.

The redesigned St. Anthony’s UCCs, which use the same electronic health records system as the medical center’s emergency department, have also boosted the synergy between the urgent care facilities and the rest of the organization, he says. St. Anthony’s main campus in St. Louis remains the heart of the organization, but the recent UCC redesign reflects a broader vision of healthcare’s future that extends beyond the hospital walls.

“We recently implemented a direct-to-emergency department bed transfer after a doc-to-doc handoff for patients coming from our urgent care centers and from the primary care physicians with St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. We’ve found this change greatly reduces duplication of testing and services, and it improves the patient experience,” he told me.

The UCC redesign at St. Anthony’s not only takes a step toward a less hospital-centric healthcare industry, but also embodies the mantra of delivering the right care, at the right time, in the right place.

The cost-effectiveness of UCC facilities is at least implied in the 2014 patient visit and gross revenue data at St. Anthony’s. The UCC facilities posted 77,357 patient visits, generating $28.9 million in gross revenue. The emergency department posted fewer patient visits, 71,043, generating $71.3 million in gross revenue.

The healthcare landscape of the future is still developing, but urgent care facilities appear destined to be a key part.

From HealthLeaders Media, by Christopher Cheney, April 22, 2015