Most primary care practices have – perhaps after a bit of trial and error – figured out a system that ensures they receive reports when their patients are seen in the local hospital emergency department. But with more walk-in, urgent care, and now pharmacy-based clinics popping up all over, coordinating the flow of information when patients receive care outside their “medical home” has become a bit more complex.
Patients often visit free-standing healthcare facilities for minor emergencies when their regular doctor’s office is closed, usually after hours or on weekends. They might also pop in for something simple like a flu shot because of the convenience factor associated with “no appointment needed.” Walk-in clinics provide a needed service to patients (particularly in areas where there is a shortage of primary care doctors), and they help control healthcare costs by offering an alternative to more expensive emergency department visits. You can work with clinics in your area – and with patients directly – to ensure that quality is not compromised when care is being provided in multiple locations. Here’s how.
Start by making a list of all the walk-in type clinics in your area and then having someone in your office (practice manager or back-office supervisor) make contact either by phone or in person with someone at each location to determine the best way to communicate when a patient is seen in the walk-in clinic. The goal is to receive some kind of documentation whenever a patient is seen outside your office for any significant condition and/or when follow-up by your practice is to occur. In an ideal world, you would be connected with all of the healthcare providers in your area via electronic health records, but if that’s not the case, then a good old-fashioned fax machine is probably your best option.
Post your list of area walk-in clinics in strategic locations around the office so that providers and staff can quickly contact them for information if a patient presents to the office for follow-up and a report has not yet arrived.
Communicate with patients as they visit your office, in your practice brochure or newsletter, and/or on your website about how and when to use walk-in, urgent care, and pharmacy-based clinics versus when they should go to the emergency department or simply wait until a provider in your practice is available to see them. For example, a patient with chest pain should go directly to a hospital emergency room, while someone with a small laceration would probably be better served at a walk-in clinic.
If there are certain clinics in your area that you feel provide superior care and service, post those locations on your practice website so that patients will be more likely to go to them if they require after-hours care.
Assuming your practice is busy and the walk-in clinics in your community provide quality care, there is no reason to view them as competition. Rather, work closely with them so that patients receive what they need when they need it. If your practice is not full and you are in business-building mode, you might consider maintaining somewhat extended hours so that you can be more available to your current patients and attract new ones as well.