Let’s imagine it’s the year 2020 instead of 2016. Patients no longer have to wait in waiting rooms (if they don’t want to). Urgent care centers in large medical office buildings are a thing of the past. People pay $80 a month for unlimited primary care access. The differences between retail clinics and urgent care centers have blurred. The independent urgent care operators not gobbled up already are those who jointly own their centers with health systems. And patients know ahead of time what services will cost instead of finding out 30 days later when the explanation of benefits comes in the mail.
It’s only four years away, but in 2016 we will see early evidence of that 2020 scenario. This year we expect the number of joint ventures to double or triple over 2015. We’ll see more large urgent care players gobbled up by health systems or insurance companies. Direct primary care will start to show up as a legitimate option during employer health plan open enrollment season. We anticipate new architectural schemes for walk-in brick and mortar, pushing new limits for visibility, accessibility, and consumer friendliness.
Growth will continue in 2016, on both the urgent care and retail clinic fronts. Until now, most growth was focused on the top-50 metro areas. Going forward anticipate more growth in markets ranked from 51-200. In other words, smaller metro areas will become hot. This growth will be at the expense of smaller hospital system medical groups who can’t move fast enough and are sitting on sweet payer agreements.
And mobile technologies will begin to play a big role in helping patients navigate care with little or no wait times. Telehealth will continue to expand, but as with last year, not as fast as many had expected, especially in the realm of lowacuity episodic illnesses.