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Urgent care center pioneer MedExpress finds success in affordability

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, 7:51 p.m.
Doctors at MedExpress, which has 16 facilities in the region and 52 in the state, said the volume of patients coming in with flu symptoms is 50 percent lower than during the same period a year ago.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Doctors at MedExpress, which has 16 facilities in the region and 52 in the state, said the volume of patients coming in with flu symptoms is 50 percent lower than during the same period a year ago.
Allegheny Health Network internal medicine physician Dr. Andrew Adams responds to questions about personalized IV therapy.
Allegheny Health Network internal medicine physician Dr. Andrew Adams responds to questions about personalized IV therapy.
Photo of MedExpress Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Pangburn.
Photo of MedExpress Chief Medical Officer Dr. Thomas Pangburn.

Fifteen years ago, MedExpress opened its first urgent care center in Morgantown, W.Va.

Today, the network of walk-in clinics is a household name and operates in 15 states, including Pennsylvania, with 177 centers. It employes more than 4,500 health care and customer service workers.

Founded in 2001, MedExpress was the vision of a group of emergency room physicians who believed in providing a customer service approach to health care while addressing the need for convenient and affordable care.

On Friday, MedExpress will enter its 15th state with the opening of its newest neighborhood medical centers in Eden Prairie and Plymouth, Minn.

The Tribune-Review recently caught up with Chief Medical Officer Thomas Pangburn to offer insight into the success of MedExpress.

What were some of the biggest early adjustments you had to make to sustain MedExpress?

“From our first center to today, we have always needed talented, dedicated health care and customer service professionals to make MedExpress possible, especially when ‘urgent care' wasn't a common term in the health care industry. Ensuring we had the teams in place to deliver on our commitment to patient-centric care was our focus then and continues to be today.”

What is the biggest threat to your future survival?

“The health care industry is moving and evolving quickly, so part of our job is making sure we're moving with it. For instance, patients have a lot more choice when it comes to their health care options. We hear from patients that it can be confusing to know where to go, especially with sudden illnesses or injuries. While not necessarily a threat, as a neighborhood health care partner, we have an obligation to help patients understand the various options available to them so they can make the most informed health care decisions for their family. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure patients receive the most appropriate level of care at the right place and the right time.”

Has the Affordable Care Act helped or hindered MedExpress?

“One of the primary goals of the Affordable Care Act is greater access to quality, affordable care. This is an area where MedExpress excels. With the Affordable Care Act and changes in the health care system, more and more people now have insurance and are accessing the health care system in new ways. Urgent care meets those needs for many of these individuals. The newly insured may not have an existing or current relationship with a primary care provider, so urgent care centers can help fill this void and meet short-term needs. There's also been a dramatic shift to high-deductible plans, which has prompted patients to become smarter and more conscientious health care consumers. This is where our affordable rates are very appealing. Since they are now responsible for a somewhat greater share of out-of-pocket costs and meeting their high deductible, they want to be sure they are receiving the greatest value.”

Why is the urgent care industry booming? How does it compare with ERs when it comes to cost?

“The need for urgent care centers is really driven by our patients and their desire for convenient, affordable, high-quality care. We know our patients are busy — so we offer a full medical team and weekend and evening hours without an appointment. That convenience makes urgent care centers a great option for those with unscheduled, time-sensitive needs. Most of our patients are in and out in less than an hour. In terms of cost, we know transparency with health care costs continues to be more and more important so that patients can have the best understanding of what their costs will be and aren't surprised with a bill they weren't expecting later. MedExpress accepts most major insurances to help patients avoid out-of-networks fees whenever possible. Emergency rooms are equipped to handle medical emergencies and are absolutely the most appropriate setting for life-threatening conditions such as trauma, chest pains or uncontrollable bleeding. Urgent care centers are available for timely, non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries, helping patients avoid the cost of non-emergent services at an emergency room by providing a more affordable option. This allows ERs to focus on the most critical patient needs.”

Are you ever concerned about growing too quickly?

“MedExpress is committed to increasing access to high-quality, affordable care. One of the ways we do that is by opening new locations that are conveniently located in neighborhoods and communities, so that health care is easily accessible and close to home. As such, our growth is always exceptionally purposeful and intentional.”

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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