The Rise of Urgent Care

Outdoor urgent care sign.

Urgent Care Clinics are all about Convenience

Consumer demands for more convenient healthcare is driving a shift in the real estate strategies of health care providers. This includes moving to what is perceived as more convenient locations, which are increasingly in retail settings. Urgent care clinics are a response to the shift from inpatient to outpatient care and are a low-cost alternative to hospital emergency rooms, where escalating overhead costs and long wait times are the norm.

The Urgent Care Centers industry represents one of the fastest growing segments of the American healthcare system. With rising wait times for both primary and emergency care providers, urgent care centers have become an increasingly viable alternative for patients.

An urgent care center is a medical clinic with expanded hours that is specially equipped to diagnose and treat a broad spectrum of non-life and limb threatening illnesses and injuries. There are 7,357 urgent care centers in the U.S., according to Urgent Care Association of America’s 2016 Benchmarking Report a rise of 650 from the 2015 count. The same study also underlines the efficiency of urgent care centers. Just 3% of visitors were diverted to an emergency department and 92% of urgent care centers achieved wait times of 30 minutes or less in 2015. The main reason most patients chose urgent care over other care sites is because they thought wait times would be shorter (22 percent) or the location was more convenient (21 percent).

Urgent Care Centers: Reasons for a Visit

Source: NPR, Robert Wood Joseph Foundation, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Urgent Care Clinics in Retail Real Estate

Increasingly, large healthcare providers are implementing an ambulatory strategy plan, developing tentacles in areas where potential patients live and shop and are increasingly leasing vacant retail spaces and urgent care clinics are a primary example. Retail landlords are embracing health care tenants attracted to their perceived stability and ability to drive foot traffic. In adding more health care providers to their retail mixes, a key benefit to landlords is that doctors and medical centers often have higher credit ratings than retailers and being viewed as somewhat recession-resistant at a time when the retail sector is struggling with a rash of store closures and higher vacancy rates.

The transition of outpatient facilities moving into traditional suburban and urban retail locations from the healthcare providers perspective is driven by the desire to locate in shopping centers with attractive demographics, high visibility and healthy foot traffic. Healthcare providers are beginning to think like retailers when making real estate decisions and tap into the retail sectors knowledge of demographics and consumer behavior.

Site Selection for Urgent Care Operators

The top healthcare real estate service providers now have access to better decision support tools to guide their site selection and leasing decisions using data-informed scenarios to determine a forward-looking market footprint. Pinpointing regions with substantial health needs and a favorable payer mix can support a sustainable growth strategy. Today, knowing who and where your best patients are, and where to find more just like them is serving as the foundation for facility site selection.

Today the most advanced healthcare real estate providers are working with their client as partners combining the health providers critical demographic and patient data with GIS systems and incorporating these data sets into tools to be used in conjunction with traditional real estate site selection criteria.

Rooftops, income levels and competitor locations is no longer enough. The broker who merely identifies vacant space, market terms and underlying real estate fundamentals without evaluating key relevant demographics is not minimizing the inherent unknown risk in site selection for urgent care clinics and outpatient facilities.

Selecting a Retail Property for Urgent Care Use

Urgent Care locations are better suited for smaller shopping centers, free-standing buildings and pad sites located in the same vicinity as big box stores and and food/drug retailers that will serve as a retail draw.

The most viable locations for urgent care use are accessible to dense populations exhibiting key demographics with a propensity for urgent care services, heavy traffic counts and and a strong retail / service draw.  The highest quality retail properties in superior locations will come with a premium price.  Highly visible End-cap or pad site locations with attractive aesthetics, highly visible signage, easy access and healthy traffic counts will command the highest rents within a particular submarket or trade area, but may be worth the higher rental cost if they support higher patient volumes.

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