As urgent care grows, the patient-driven industry continues to fragment into specialized care. Recent years have seen more urgent care clinics devoted to a single specialty, such as orthopedics, physical therapy, chiropractic, or pediatrics. Like the evolving market that’s driving immediate healthcare services, urgent care will continue to change its definition to meet patient needs.
Pediatric urgent care’s popularity is driven by the unpredictable illness and injury potential of children. In addition, same-day care with pediatricians is often difficult, and ER visits are often the only alternative for desperate parents who seek care after typical doctor’s office hours. Logically, these two referral sources—and their lack of availability—are driving pediatric urgent care’s growth.
Ready to begin a pediatric urgent care? Here are seven insider tips to help you successfully build and open a pediatric urgent care clinic:
Tip 1: Be Deliberate About Your First Location (and Be Open to Locations You Haven’t Considered)
Often, a first location is chosen for its availability—and ease of construction or conversion. Even if the price and timing is right for you, make sure the geographical location is located near your target markets with lower competition, and has room for expansion. Avoid having to move soon after opening, which could initiate costly changes difficult to overcome in your first year.
Pediatrics, like standard urgent cares, requires high visibility and good signage to improve visit volume. Pediatric clinics should be located next to highly trafficked areas by parents, such as shopping areas focused on mothers or other child-related industries like toy stores or daycares. Easy access to the potential clinic and parking space should be considered before purchasing or leasing a location.
Employ market research companies to study demographics to choose your ideal location, such as areas with frequent ER visits by children, lower amounts of pediatricians, or fewer competing urgent cares. Keep an open mind regarding opening locations in places you haven’t considered. If offered an excellent location—or if a new, unexpected income source arises (such as a health plan grant option emerges or if a contracted payer enters a new market), be open to considering unexpected opportunities as well.
Tip 2: Choose Your Architects and Construction Company Carefully
Take your time, and select an excellent construction company and architect. Vendors pay for themselves many times over. Once you find companies you like, who listen to your needs and use appropriate materials, keep these companies for all your future clinic build-outs. With pediatrics specifically, room placements and layout needs can differ based on the services your urgent care provides.
Consider work portfolios by contractors, and, if possible, speak to other pediatric urgent care owners in your geographical area to see who they recommend as a vendor. Re-doing construction work and replacing materials is one of the highest expenses for new urgent care owners. A good rule of thumb is to have three to four exam rooms per provider, and build up patient visits to employ your desired number of providers per location.
Other pediatric urgent cares can be your greatest ally if they are forthcoming with sharing info. Take time to research fellow clinics. Other adult or all ages urgent cares can also give you good advice (if they don’t view you as direct competition), so begin establishing relationships in locations of interest with other urgent cares as soon as possible. If need be, travel to view other pediatric urgent cares in person, who won’t be direct competition, to learn from their layouts.
Tip 3: Attend Pediatric and Emergency Care Conferences
Pediatric urgent cares are started or operated by pediatricians and ER doctors. While family practice and emergency medicine conferences already exist, the emerging market of pediatric urgent care is garnering visibility in the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, and the Urgent Care Association of America. A blend of both pediatrics and emergency medicine is predictably happening in the conference world to support this new market.
The newly formed Pediatric Urgent Care Conference is hosted annually by PM Pediatrics, a private pediatric urgent care, to help educate the growing industry specialty. Pediatric urgent care staff and owners should attend events to connect with fellow practitioners and share peer-to-peer knowledge. The Society for Pediatric Urgent Care was formed in 2014 by hospital-based emergency care providers, and it strives to offer standards for pediatric urgent care at all levels. More emergency child healthcare conferences are likely to emerge in the next several years, as well.
Tip 4: Build Relationships with Local Pediatricians and Hospitals
Your pediatric urgent care will depend heavily on relationships with local pediatricians and hospitals. Your first year, you will need referrals from pediatricians who send their patients your way after hours. Also, ERs at local hospitals will depend on you to serve cases that do not require the emergency room. Both sources will look closely at your treatment and reputation when sending you referrals. Make a visible effort not to overlap and “steal” patients by offering your services for unplanned visits and after local pediatric clinics have closed.
Maintaining this balance of partnership vs. competition is a necessary element if your pediatric urgent care is to remain open long term. Proper follow-up with primary care providers and correct treatment of non-life threatening emergencies will bring your clinic trust in your community. If your clinic won’t be affiliated with or owned by a hospital, it’s even more essential to keep good relationships with the local hospitals and pediatric doctors. Your clinic’s reputation with fellow providers will also help you when recruiting talent for open positions from children’s hospitals or local doctor offices.
Tip 5: Choose Building Rooms and Interiors to Fit Children
Your first location is your test site for room layout and workflow. Additional locations can be created using a “clinic template” based on what you learn from trial-and-error regarding clinic size and layouts. Building sizes vary according to your needs, but no matter if you are constructing or converting, ensure space is used wisely. Unused clinic space costs you money. For example, consider patient volume when creating lobby areas, and think about how technology can help reduce physical space needs with online patient check-in instead.
Ensure building interiors include child-friendly seating and decorations. Toys and books are typical, but in urgent care, the less in the rooms the better—to help reduce germs. Many pediatric urgent cares go the extra mile to make children feel comfortable, with fun wall paintings, play areas, blankets, balloons, and so on. Interiors are bright and full of natural light, and all staff should be trained for pediatrics. It’s vital to share the feeling of play and gentleness with pediatric patients; hiring and training staff specifically to pediatrics will give your clinic this atmosphere.
Tip 6: Open Before School Season Begins (and Certify or Accredit Your Clinic)
Choose your clinic’s open date carefully. With the need for cash flow an immediate pressure after build out, business owners want to begin recouping money quickly. To do this well, plan your clinic opening strategically, before the school season begins in the fall. Summer is a slow time for pediatrics, and you will not have occupational medicine or wellness exams that adult urgent cares fall back on to boost visits.
Plan your build-out to be constructed during the winter or spring months, staff training and building to be finalized (including choosing PM and EMR software) in the summer, and doors to open when flu season begins in the fall. Be ready for the busiest time of year with your staffing plans. However, realize if you need to refine workflows, you’ll be doing that during heavy patient volume times.
Urgent care clinics typically need enough working capital to get through the first year, until a patient base is built. A new clinic on average costs $800,000 to $1 million, and breakevens happen according to patient volume and payer contract terms.1 Become a certified clinic to add credibility to your pediatric urgent care. Research criteria at the Urgent Care Association of America before applying for accreditation. Schedule certification or accreditation as soon as possible after your open date.
Tip 7: Add Management, Recruitment, and Marketing Quickly
Most physician-started clinics rely on the talent they have in the initial planning phases. Typically, in most successful urgent care cases, leadership involves at least two partners who have either clinical or business expertise. Pairing together helps leaders of each discipline focus on their areas while creating business plans, finances, clinical needs, and marketing. For those with few staff at the beginning, a learning curve is involved if self-teaching is needed in these areas.
Some pediatric clinic owners choose to hire urgent care consultants to help, while others dive in and learn on their own. Either way, add a management team you trust as soon as possible to offload work appropriately. A key hire will be your human resource or recruiting firm. This person or firm will determine the fate of your urgent care, as staff are your business in urgent care. Pediatric doctors can be challenging to recruit, so start scouting talent, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, immediately after you’ve chosen your clinic location.
Marketing begins well before your clinic opens. Your reputation will be determined by the doctors and providers you hire; make sure this is communicated correctly to the community you are about to enter. While trial-and-error with marketing can be done without professional help, a marketing agency can help you pinpoint audiences and create messaging that will resonate with your target audiences—like mother-based groups, schools, and other child-focused healthcare providers.
Pediatrics has emerged as a strong specialty in urgent care. Although physically the smallest patient type, pediatrics holds a sizeable patient base—and has held enough market value to sway urgent care owners toward specializing for children. Urgent care trends show growth in the pediatric urgent care model, especially in highly urbanized areas. As competition grows, stand-alone and hospital-based pediatric clinics will need to differentiate services, both from traditional pediatricians—but also from your standard urgent care clinics.
Thank you to Dr. Anastasia Gentles from NightLight Pediatric Urgent Care who graciously agreed to be interviewed, and shared her first-hand advice for starting a pediatric urgent care.