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‘Thinking Small’ May Be Next Big Innovation in Healthcare Delivery as Microhospitals Spring Up in Metropolitan Areas Across Multiple States

Microhospitals may also be useful in providing patient access for the collection of clinical laboratory and anatomic pathology specimens

Thinking small may be key to the next big innovation in the delivery of healthcare. Microhospitals are taking hold in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona—states known to be healthcare innovators. As well, microhospitals are popping up in metropolitan areas across the Midwest.

This trend could provide opportunities for clinical laboratories and pathology groups to cater to the needs of a new class of healthcare provider.

Microhospitals are small-scale inpatient facilities that provide emergency and ambulatory services. An article on Advisory Board’s website describes the new concept as ranging in size from 15,000 to 50,000 square feet, with fewer than a dozen inpatient beds. In addition to emergency departments, 24/7 core services include:

• Clinical laboratory;

• Pharmacy; and

• Imaging departments.

Unlike community hospitals, microhospitals are opened in densely-populated areas to provide residents with quick access to emergency and acute care. Patients who need more than one night in a hospital are likely to be transferred to a full-service hospital.

Unique Opportunities for Medical Laboratories

For medical laboratories, microhospitals offer a unique opportunity to provide lab testing in near-patient settings, as well as to develop value-added testing services that cater to the needs of physicians practicing in microhospitals. The offering of ancillary services such as outpatient surgeries, primary care, dietary services and labor-and-delivery, tend to vary based on community needs.

“No two microhospitals are exactly the same in their design or service mix, but one trend is becoming clear,” notes the Advisory Board article. “Most health systems are using them as entry points into markets where demand would not be able to support a full-scale hospital.”

This is the second microhospital opened by SCL Health and Emerus in the Denver area. (Photo copyright: Emerus.)

This is the second microhospital opened by SCL Health and Emerus in the Denver area. (Photo copyright: Emerus.)

In a Hospital and Health Networks article, Michael Slubowski, President and CEO of SCL Health, a nonprofit, faith-based healthcare organization dedicated to improving the health of poor and vulnerable communities, explained the appeal of microhospitals.

“We can accommodate, for example, patients with acute abdominal pain, bladder infections, sprained and broken bones, lacerations and minor trauma,” Slubowski explained. “People who need short-stay admissions, for observation care, or things like antibiotic therapy where they need to be in a bed, we can provide those services as well.”

Working together, SCL Health and Emerus plan to open four microhospitals in Denver-area neighborhoods. Slubowski says microhospitals not only offer health systems an affordable “middle point” between building a full-service acute care hospital and an urgent care clinic, but also fill a void in many metro areas because they are staffed with board-certified emergency physicians and other specialists.

Donald Rosier, County Commissioner in Jefferson County, Colo., one of the locations where SCL Health plans to open a microhospital, agrees that the facility will fill a void in the Denver-area healthcare landscape.

“I think it will add a lot to a community that looks at having to travel long distances,” Rosier told the Denver Post. “It can really fit a nice niche.”

When Saint Luke’s Health System announced plans to build the Kansas City area’s first microhospital, CEO Melinda Estes, MD, MBA, praised the concept as a way to provide residents in suburban Overland Park with fast treatment in an eight-bed, 17,000-square-foot facility.

“The goal is if you need emergency care and you need to come in for something that can be taken care of quickly, we can get you in,” Estes told the Kansas City Business Journal. “Lots of emergency rooms in Kansas City are busy. Patients sometimes get frustrated because they end up waiting for a long period of time.”

Microhospitals Provide Broad Range of Healthcare Services

This new care-model trend adds to healthcare’s shift toward providing more care in outpatient settings. Unlike stand-alone emergency departments, microhospitals are fully licensed hospitals, which means the range of outpatient services they may provide is broader.

Richard Bonnin, Director of Communications at Emerus Holdings Inc./Emerus Hospitals in Houston, suggests traditional hospitals need to embrace this new care model.

“People are looking for closer, more intimate options for healthcare,” Bonnin said in an Emerus statement.  “Traditional hospitals that do not provide services in the setting consumers want will be at a disadvantage.”

Priya Bathija, JD, Senior Associate Director for Policy Development at the American Hospital Association (AHA) told Kaiser Health News (KHN) that microhospitals offer an opportunity to “really ramp up outpatient services.”

Dignity Health, a healthcare system in Nevada, Arizona, and California, soon will have two microhospitals in the Phoenix area, and is expanding the concept to Las Vegas and potentially California. In the KHN article, Peggy Sanborn, Vice President of Strategic Growth, Mergers, and Acquisitions at Dignity Health, said the concept “can help connect patients with specialty and primary care physician networks,” noting that Dignity’s four Las Vegas microhospitals will include a second floor with separate specialty and primary care offices to which patients could be referred.

Access to Healthcare in Vulnerable Communities

While microhospitals currently are being built near fast-growing urban and suburban markets, some experts predict a more expanded role for this alternative delivery model.

“We really think they have the potential to help in vulnerable communities that have a lack of access,” said Bathija in the KHN article.

The growth of microhospitals also could benefit clinical pathologists as patients gain access to a new source of coordinated care and clinical laboratories gain revenue opportunities from a new class of providers.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information:

To Grow Your Hospital, Think Micro

SCL Health Tries Out Microhospitals

Sometimes Tiny Is Just the Right Size: ‘Microhospitals’ Filling Some ER Needs

Microhospital Mystery Solved: KC Health System Behind Project

Micro Hospital Should Open in Late Spring at Coal Mine and Wadsworth

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