IT Upgrades Position Urgent Care Centers as Promising Vaccination Sites
By Megan Headley
The convenience of urgent care centers and retail health clinics have made these sites ideal locations for consumers to secure COVID-19 testing, and they can also help expand access to COVID-19 vaccines. After all, there are more than 9,600 urgent care clinics and at least 2,000 retail clinics across the country. The combined membership of the Urgent Care Association (UCA) and Convenient Care Association (CCA) alone have the capacity to serve and vaccinate more than 130 million patients across the country.
What’s more, many people are reluctant to seek care from their physician’s office due to fear of infection transmission from patients with COVID-19. While urgent care centers have faced some of that caution from consumers, UCA reports that visits to urgent care centers in 2021 are up 67% compared to the previous three-year average.
Finally, urgent care centers could help alleviate the gaps in vaccination coverage. UCA and CCA note that more than 76.6% of Americans live within a 10-minute drive of an urgent care center and 40% live within a 10-minute drive of a retail health clinic. Expanding the number of facilities able to vaccinate could work to close coverage gaps. An analysis from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and the nonprofit West Health Policy Center has found that several states may not have a sufficient number of healthcare facilities in some areas to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to all residents who want it.
However, UCA CEO Lou Ellen Horowitz wrote in October 2020 that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention had initially discounted urgent care facilities as a part of its strategy for vaccine deployment, citing concerns over centers’ ability to handle high-volume throughput, manage cold storage and universal supply chains, and track and report vaccination activity.
Many convenient care centers are working to strengthen their back-end reporting infrastructure to combat these claims that they cannot manage the high throughput. After all, the early rollout of COVID-19 tests was partially hampered by facilities that did not have the online infrastructure to support scheduling and reporting.
“They were really not set up to provide the testing at the pace that they were expected to do,” says Hari Prasad, CEO of Yosi Health, a mobile patient registration software provider. “Volume was a big challenge.” Through Yosi Health, Prasad has helped bring back-end systems up to date to reliably streamline scheduling while reducing downtime.
Yosi Health had already been working with urgent care centers around the country when the coronavirus pandemic struck, and so it soon became one of a number of technology firms pivoting to provide urgent care centers with appropriate back-end support for COVID-19 testing and service volume. This gave Prasad insight into the accessibility advantages that urgent care centers offer over medical campuses, as well as the bottlenecks that needed to be addressed.
For example, Prasad notes that many urgent care centers have required support in collecting vital information from patients and connecting it to their electronic medical record systems. “Because this was all new for everyone, they needed a system that could collect all of that information and transfer it back-end into their medical record systems.”
Electronic data collection helps to speed the process of accurately transferring patient information to labs and then back to the patient—speed that becomes even more critical as labs face their own surges in demand. “There were a lot of time-sensitive results, so they needed to get that information from the patient, transfer to lab, and get it back-end from the labs,” Prasad says. “Our system was critical in helping bridge the time delays.”
Increases in volume may have been an issue for most medical facilities in 2020, but Prasad found urgent care centers were “poised to move faster than large health systems based on how their infrastructure is set up.”
Electronic data collection is also helping urgent care centers address the “fear factor” that kept patients away from medical care last year. By creating no-contact virtual waiting rooms, health centers are able to encourage consumers to safely seek out emergency care.
“The vision that we have is to allow patients to complete forms and payment at home for their own safety, so when they come to the care center all they have to do is see the care provider and not deal with the administrative work that often involves touching kiosks and clipboards, handing over their insurance card and driver’s licenses, credit cards, etc. All of that is handled by our system, creating a safe environment for patients,” Prasad says.
Of course, Prasad also sees this virtual waiting room as bringing “the airline check-in experience” to healthcare—a comfort factor with potential to outlast the pandemic. “Similar to how we’re able to get our boarding passes before we get to the airport to streamline our journey or travel process, Yosi Health is helping patients do all of this at home at their own safety and convenience,” he says.
Urgent care centers with the technology in place to support vaccination may find they also have the support they need for a more competitive edge post-pandemic.
Megan Headley is a freelance writer and owner of ClearStory Publications. She has covered healthcare safety and operations for numerous publications. Headley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.