Urgent care centers have long existed as loss leaders for health systems — staffing highly-paid nurses and doctors around the clock to treat sprains and wounds is expensive. For the last decade, many have amputated those operations as a cost savings measure and instead invested higher-margin outpatient surgical centers and other specialty services.
But Henry Ford Health is bucking the trend, planning to open 15 urgent care centers across metro Detroit this year alone. The Detroit system opened the fifth of the planned centers Monday in Clinton Township alongside joint venture partner Chicago-based GoHealth.
HFH's plan is to patch holes in care across the region and build its marketing presence, said Doug Ditri, COO of the system's ambulatory operations. Customers demand convenient, high-quality care more than ever, he said.
"We're finding within our market, we're not meeting the needs of our patients where and when they need it," Ditri said. "Convenience for our patients is part of it, but it's also sort of retail product where people will see our name and where we're more visible in the market."
Urgent care use skyrocketed during the pandemic for COVID-19 in part because emergency departments were overrun with patients and urged the public to seek non-life threatening care elsewhere. In 2020, urgent care clinics saw a 58 percent increase in visits, according to research from Experity.
Henry Ford Health's nine emergency departments saw more than 422,000 visits in 2021 — or an average of more than 129 visits per department per day.
About half of those who visited an urgent care center in 2020 were new patients. The pandemic showed the industry that patients want closer and more convenient care to home, said Todd Latz, CEO of GoHealth.