Patients flocking to Baptist Health urgent care centers
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Baptist Health South Florida's urgent care center concept has brought medical care to many Miami-Dade neighborhoods and a boost in revenues for the organization.
Patient count has more than tripled at several urgent care centers opened in recent years and the healthcare group continues to search for new locations, including in Brickell and South and West Dade.
The idea of having a doctor nearby who can see a patient within two hours without an appointment, especially on weekends, has been part of the recipe for the centers' success, said Patricia Rosello, chief executive officer of Baptist Outpatient Services, part of Baptist Health South Florida.
"It's been an interesting phenomenon. When we started the urgent care centers, we didn't understand the potential of the business line," Ms. Rosello said, adding that activity at the centers has been increasing beyond the hospital's expectations.
Baptist's concept for a support center was born more than a decade ago when its emergency room was clogging and the organization saw a need for facilities more accessible throughout Miami-Dade.
Baptist began setting up urgent care centers in areas such as Westchester, West Kendall and Doral, staffed with doctors and nurses who treat ailments such as flu, simple fractures and allergic reactions.
Today, more than 129,000 patients a year receive care at one of Baptist's nine urgent care facilities, which have steadily increased the number of patients they serve in the past three years.
Last year, 129,468 patients visited the urgent care sites, 34,319 more than the 95,149 who did so in 2008. Visits also rose from 2007 to 2008, with patient count growing from 78,988 to 95,149.
For example, the Baptist Medical Plaza at Miami Lakes, 14701 NW 77th Ave., which opened in late 2006, has close to tripled its patient base. The facility houses an urgent care center and offers diagnostic imaging.
With the common cold and variations of the flu concerning many through most of last year, Ms. Rosello says, Baptist saw a sharp rise in the centers' patients showing flu-like symptoms.
Having a health center nearby makes it more convenient for patients to seek care, she says, rather than wait for symptoms to go away in order to avoid the crowded emergency room of a local hospital.
"All contribute to the spike in the amount of visits we are seeing," Ms. Rosello said.
The centers fill the gap between the doctor's office and the emergency room, explained Amanda Gonzalez, marketing director for Baptist Outpatient Services. Some cases need follow-up, but most are resolved during the visit, she added.
"People are getting more comfortable with urgent care centers," Ms. Gonzalez said.
With several medical plazas now operating more than four years, she says today many physicians even recommend patients to visit Baptist's urgent care facilities when their offices are closed.
Baptist is examining the population density in parts of Miami-Dade to decide where to open added centers, Ms. Rosello said, without hurting business at existing facilities.
"You don't want to cannibalize your existing business, but if you can put an urgent center closer to their [patients'] homes, it makes it more convenient," she explained.
As the population moves further west and south, she says, it opens up additional opportunities for new urgent care centers.
While most urgent care centers now are in residential communities, Baptist has been eyeing Brickell's business district for one. The area's office population and its growing residential base make it attractive.
But finding a location for a medical facility among office buildings and condo towers hasn't been easy. Although rental rates are competitive and vacancies are up, landlords haven't been receptive to leasing to a medical facility because patient traffic, operating hours and parking needs can conflict with other building users, leasing agents have said.
But Brickell is still on Baptist's radar.
Ms. Rosello says she's now analyzing the urban core's working population.
"The question we ask ourselves is: "If you feel ill at work, would you rather go to an urgent care center close to home or close to work,'" she said, a question the study could answer.
Success of the existing medical centers is driving further expansion studies.
None of the nine current urgent care centers has posted a loss and all continue to yield profits, Ms. Rosello said, though she didn't specify profit figures.
For example, the Baptist Medical Plaza at Country Walk at 13500 SW 152nd St., which encompasses a children's diagnostic center and an urgent care center, was established, in part, to decompress patient traffic at Baptist's West Kendall urgent care facility, Ms. Rosello said, but it had not had an impact.
"There was a greater need than any of us expected," she said. "It also shows the density of the population and how many people don't have easier access to care."