When Merchant Medicine held its strategy symposium last January, momentum had been building in both the retail clinic and urgent care space. MinuteClinic had just added another 150 sites. The top five pure-play urgent care operators had added 102 new sites, mostly through organic growth. Consumerism in healthcare was becoming the hottest thing since the dotcom era in the late 1990s. And increasing brand sophistication was one of the key topics of conversation.
In 2014 most of that momentum continued. Some parts of the urgent care sector slowed down to absorb its rapid expansion in 2013. But those same top five pure-play urgent care operators added another 93 clinics, although a larger percentage in 2014 was through acquisitions. Consumerism remained hot and brand sophistication manifested itself in a number of ways during the year, from higher multiples paid for urgent care operations to national brand consistency to interconnections between private operators and local health systems.
Next month we will release our annual Forecast Issue in which we offer up a new set of predictions. But what happened in 2014 provides plenty of instruction on what will likely become a common trend: walk-in medicine – or now commonly referred to as “on-demand” medicine – is evolving into a network of national and regional brands amid increasing connectivity. Overlay the rapid emergence in 2014 of telehealth and queue management systems, and what you have is a fast-moving industry that is well funded and highly disruptive to the traditional healthcare establishment.