Urgent care shifts to customer service model
Spectrum Health cuts wait time via web self-scheduling tool called Clockwise.MD.
In many ways, urgent care services have stayed consistent since the 1980s. But new online technologies are allowing health systems with multiple campuses to reduce wait time, so providers can serve patients with greater efficiency.
Dr. Edward Millermaier is department chief for primary health, including urgent care, primary care providers, occupation and behavioral health services, at Spectrum Health. He said Spectrum started using a new tool call Clockwise.MD last fall that allows patients to go online and schedule a visit at the urgent care location with the shortest wait time.
“We’re seeing more and more digitally connected tools available to patients,” Millermaier said. “There are a lot of practices that have multiple sites that want to do (services like Clockwise.MD).”
He said using the tool has helped Spectrum urgent care providers look at patient care with a customer-service mindset.
“We are putting a customer face on a patient-provider experience,” he said. “We don’t want to lose the sense that people are coming to their provider to be a trusted partner in their health. But we also have layered on a customer-focused approach. We’re looking at the responses from surveys we send out. We want to understand the dynamics and meet their needs.”
Millermaier said the Clockwise.MD tool is just one piece of that puzzle, and the technology is easy to use and effective.
“If you say, ‘I want to be seen at 2,’ you can enter your information and you’ll get text reminders about the timing,” he said. “You come in and have your time designated so you get seen then. The average wait time for those is (eight) minutes. If you don’t use Clockwise, it’s about 30 minutes.”
Spectrum currently has urgent care centers at 2332 Alpine Ave. NW, 2750 East Beltline Ave. NE, South Pavilion at 80 68th St. SE, West Pavilion at 6105 Wilson Ave. SW in Wyoming, Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital at 8333 Felch St. in Zeeland and at 3350 Broadmoor Ave. SE.
The health system will be closing the Broadmoor location at the end of the month and opening a new urgent care center at 8501 Meadow Creek Drive in Rockford on Aug. 7. All other services at the Broodmoor location, including occupational health, will remain open.
Current hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, except for South Pavilion, which stays open until 10 p.m. West Pavilion and Alpine are open on holidays.
Sometimes, one of the locations will have a slow day, and another location will be busy all day long. Millermaier said the dozens of urgent care providers and medical staff keep in contact throughout the day to make sure the staffing levels are appropriate, so wait times don’t balloon out of control.
“In any one day, if one area is less active and one is overactive, we’ll shift staff and providers to the other area to meet the demand,” he said. “Let’s says South (Pavilion) is backed up and West is slower, you’ll take the staff from West and put it in South to navigate the rest of the day. The team stays in contact throughout the day to let each other know when they are getting backed up.”
Millermaier said most patients know that serious, emergent issues like cardiac episodes, neurologic problems and trauma should be treated immediately in an emergency room. Patients also should go to the ER if they need lab tests or X-rays.
The types of needs the urgent care providers address are pressing but less serious.
“It’s for those things that are sudden but nonemergent — the things that pop up like coughs, sore throats, rashes, ear pain, sprains, strains or cuts,” Millermaier said.
Depending on the situation, he said Spectrum sometimes offers a telemedicine option for patients.
“MedNow is mix of video, telephonic and email,” he said. “We’ve linked that with our urgent care, so if someone walks in and it’s something that could be taken care of in our virtual environment, they can shift to an on-demand, telehealth visit that is not a substitute for urgent care, it’s a subset of what we do in urgent care,” he said.
“There are certain things where you have to do an actual examination, like when you need to use a stethoscope or put a blood pressure cuff on someone. If you do need to look in an ear or throat, it is hard to do that with video, so we’re cautious about that.”
Some patients are skeptical, though.
“Some love these kinds of things and others say, ‘I don’t want to do that virtually; I want to see a doctor,’” Millermaier said.
He said the most important aspect of a customer-first approach to patient care is the urgent care centers need to be ready to adapt to a range of needs.
“The staff in general (at each urgent care location) is very focused on addressing people’s needs when they come in,” Millermaier said.
“When someone says, ‘I need to be seen now,’ that could be a worried person, so the teams are very mindful of that.”