Just Checking In: Episode 26 - Seasonality Curve

Episode 26:
Benefits of Occ. Med to Urgent Care

On this edition of Just Checking In, industry expert Alan Ayers discusses the advantages of implementing occupational medicine into an existing urgent care operation.

Just Checking In - Episode 26 - Seasonality Curve
Video Transcript

Good Afternoon! This is Alan Ayers and I am Just Checking In on this beautiful autumn day, coming to you from Boston Common where I am attending the annual National Association of Occupational Health Professionals meeting being held here in Boston. Today I’m going to be talking to you about the advantages of implementing occupational medicine into an existing urgent care operation.

So, the number one benefit goes to flattening what we call the “demand curve”. Urgent care is a highly seasonal business. So as you can see from this chart, urgent care centers tend to be busiest during what we call “respiratory season”, which typically goes from November to April and consists of cold and flu, sinusitis, otitis media, allergic rhinitis – all of these other conditions associated with seasonal respiratory issues. That means, for an urgent care center, summers are typically slower because these respiratory issues don’t exist. Well, the problem with extreme seasonality – and the seasonality curve can be certainly be exaggerated in communities that have a lot of snowbirds, or have vacation destinations, particularly winter vacation destinations – that the challenge is when you have such strong demand in the winter months but the summer months are slow, how do you staff the center over the course of a year? If you staff the center to average volume, that means you’re going to be over-staffed in the summer, under-staffed during the busy season. If you staff the busy season, you’ll be over-staffed in the summer. Your risk of staffing through the slow months would be under-staffing during the busy season. So the challenge is really staffing and fully optimizing staff efficiency, giving the seasonality curve. It’s very difficult to hire part-time or seasonal workers in urgent care.

So, if you look at occupational medicine, occupational medicine is actually contra-seasonal to urgent care. The busiest months for occupational medicine tend to be the summer months. Those are the months that companies are hiring, they’re doing new-hire physicals, drug screens. They’re the months that road construction is taking place – building construction, home construction – and, so, the amount of need for occupational medicine typically spikes in the summer. So, when you look at the contra-seasonality of urgent care and occupational medicine, the businesses are really quite complementary. By adding occupational medicine, you can somewhat flatten your demand, which would better utilize your staff and assure that the center has a steady stream of revenue year-round.

Now, this demand curve is not only seen on a seasonal basis, but also a daily basis. So, if you look at the typical urgent care center, it’s busiest first thing in the morning, up until around noon. There’s typically a lull between two and three in the afternoon, and then the urgent care picks back up around four o’clock. So the ability to schedule physicals, drug screens, other occupational medicine services – re-check appointments on other workers’ compensation injuries – occupational medicine gives you the ability to kind of flatten that daytime ebb and flow to shift scheduled appointments, drug screens, physicals, re-checks to that slow period during the afternoon, which again maximizes or optimizes the efficiency and effectiveness of the urgent care staff.

The other opportunity with occupational medicine, or the other benefit, is that it does add a steady stream of cash flow. So physicals and drug screens that are paid directly by employers are typically built on a net 15 basis, and in some states, workers’ compensation is actually a pretty generous fee schedule. So by adding employer-paid services and workers’ comp, it is an additional line of business, it’s additional revenue to the center, and it’s revenue that is fairly reliable and it pays somewhat of a premium.

So those are some of the advantages and the reasons why occupational medicine and urgent care fit together, but there are some challenges in implementing the businesses as well. Employer expectations are very different than those of individual patients. Employers expect injured workers to be returned to work quickly. They expect light or modified duty. They typically expect a work hardening approach, or exhausting all options before looking at surgery for, say, low back pain or other orthopedic-type injuries. They expect rapid turnaround on drug screens, physical results. They expect frequent communications around the work status of injured workers. And they definitely expect occupational medicine providers to minimize time off and to minimize OSHA recordables.

So – occupational medicine – it’s not so easy as just adding additional services, but if you can add occupational medicine successfully, you can grow your center, make better use of your existing resources and maximize your staffing efficiency.

So if you have questions on the many details of implementing occupational medicine into an existing urgent care operation, we at Practice Velocity are eager to help. Practice Velocity and Urgent Care Consultants have helped over two hundred urgent care centers get up and running and fulfill their full business potential. You can contact us at the address you see on your screen and thanks again! This is Alan Ayers, Just Checking In, here from Boston.