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UnitedHealth’s Plans to Build More MedExpress Urgent Care Centers Is a Sign of Strong Consumer Demand and Could Be an Opportunity for Clinical Laboratories

Since the first retail clinic opened in Minneapolis in 2001, there has been a steady increase in the number of such clinics, typically located in retail pharmacies and chain retailers

In Minnesota, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) is preparing to substantially increase the number of urgent care clinics it operates in the state. These retail-style clinics will be operated by MedExpress, a company that UnitedHealth acquired in 2015.

UnitedHealth’s decision to expand the number of MedExpress retail clinics it operates, both in Minnesota and nationally, is a sign to clinical laboratory managers and pathologists that consumer demand for health services delivered by a retail clinic continues to increase.

Unusual Growth for Minnesotans

MedExpress’ announcement that it will add 19 more clinics in the state of Minnesota by the end of 2017, indicates a demand that exceeds that of other states.

According to data collected from MN Community Measurement, an organization that reports healthcare information for Minnesota, there are presently 89 walk-in clinics operating in the state. The addition of 19 MedExpress clinics alone will represent a 19% increase in this type of facility for Minnesota.

“This is unusual,” said Tom Charland, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Merchant Medicine, a healthcare consulting firm, and former SVP of Minute Clinic, a division of CVS Health (NYSE:CVS), in a Star Tribune article. “The other operators are growing, but not at this pace.”

No Appointment Necessary

The MedExpress website states they offer a variety of services including treatment for sprains, broken bones, burns, allergic reactions, asthma attacks, colds, influenza, and bronchitis. They also perform routine, sports, school, and employer-mandated physicals, medical evaluations, minor surgical procedures, lab work, and tests such as EKG’s and X-rays. They also provide immunizations.

MedExpress locations also include a pharmacy that fills prescriptions written by on-site physicians for the most popular prescription medications. Patients seeking treatment for illness or injury at MedExpress clinics do not need an appointment to obtain medical attention.

Data above sourced from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The correlation between higher quality and lower cost at urgent care clinics can be clearly seen. (Image copyright: CVS Health.)

Data above sourced from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The correlation between higher quality and lower cost at urgent care clinics can be clearly seen. (Image copyright: CVS Health.)

MedExpress currently has 177 urgent care centers in the US and plans to grow that number to over 250 by the end of 2018, according to Frank Alderman, MD, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of MedExpress Urgent Care, which is headquartered in the Pittsburgh area. The full-service clinics are open from 8 am to 8 pm seven days a week in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. They accept most insurance. The company is in the process of opening new facilities in Alabama, Connecticut, and Nebraska, in addition to Minnesota.

Consistency in Design and Quality a Cornerstone of MedExpress

“The centers are totally consistent,” Alderman said. “If you work at one here in Pittsburgh, you can work [at one] in the Twin Cities. The consumers really appreciate that, as do our staff.”

The MedExpress urgent care clinic above, located in Pine Bluff, AR, began operating in 2016 and was the 15th urgent care center to open its doors in the state. (Photo copyright: Arkansas Business.)

The MedExpress urgent care clinic above, located in Pine Bluff, AR, began operating in 2016 and was the 15th urgent care center to open its doors in the state. (Photo copyright: Arkansas Business.)

Alderman added that MedExpress is positioned at the convergence of healthcare and retail. “You earn the right to grow by having a strong foundation of quality. Minnesotans will learn about the model through the company’s marketing and community work plus patient testimonials,” he said in the Star Tribune article.

Lowering Burden on America’s Emergency Rooms by 90%

Walk-in retail clinics, such as MedExpress, fulfill an escalating need for access to medical care. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 83.2% of adults and 92.4% of children had contact with a healthcare professional in 2014. The CDC estimates that up to 90% of visits to emergency rooms could be treated at urgent care facilities.

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are 7,100 urgent care retail clinics presently operating in the US. These clinics provide a comprehensive range of outpatient healthcare needs that are economical and convenient to utilize.

As the need for consumer-focused healthcare services increases, the growth of convenient, walk-in retail healthcare, such as urgent care clinics and medical laboratories, also is expanding.

Because urgent care clinics strive to treat injuries and illnesses that are not life threatening in one visit, they fill a gap between primary care physicians and emergency rooms. And, potentially, they could reduce the burden on our nation’s emergency rooms.

According to a report prepared by Accenture (NYSE:ACN), a business intelligence and strategy consulting company, the number of retail health clinics in the US is expected to increase by 14% in 2017, a 47% increase since 2014.

The report states the reasons for this as:

• Expansion of insurance under the Affordable Care Act;

• Lack of primary care physicians; and

• Patients experiencing long wait times at emergency rooms and difficulty securing appointments to see doctors.

The ongoing growth in the number of walk-in clinics is evidence of substantial capital being invested to create new care settings that meet the goals of keeping patients out of hospitals, making care easier for consumers to access, and offering reasonable costs for clinical services. Retail clinics have become a healthcare delivery system for many consumers. For clinical labs and pathologists, these retail clinics can present an opportunity to provide medical laboratory testing services while delivering value-added assistance to consumers and medical professionals.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

UnitedHealth’s Optum Unit Makes Big Push into Urgent Care in Minnesota

Optum-owned urgent-care chain MedExpress expands to Minnesota

5 Things Minnesota Families Should Know About MedExpress

UnitedHealth’s Optum To Escalate Growth as Provider of Medical Care

Optum-owned MedExpress Opens First Minnesota Locations

UnitedHealth’s Optum Targets 75 Markets for Health Center Expansion

CDC: ER Visit Estimated at $1000, Urgent Care Only $150

Comparing Costs and Quality of Care at Retail Clinics with That of Other Medical Settings for 3 Common Illnesses

Primary Care Threat: Urgent Care Grows More Popular

Urgent Care Centers are Booming, which Worries Some Doctors

Retail Clinics Are Poised to Offer More Health Services, Participate in ACOS, and Offer Expanded Menu of Clinical Pathology Laboratory Tests

More Medical Laboratory Testing Expected as Retail Clinics Change Delivery of Routine Healthcare Services

Consumer Demand for Convenient, Low-Cost Medical Care Moves Hospitals Into Retail Clinic Business

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