What Hospitals, Urgent Care Providers Look for in a Partner

Urgent care is a booming subset of the healthcare industry. There has been a 20 percent growth of existing clinics in the past four years, and use of the clinics has also grown in popularity. As this boom continues, health systems are increasingly looking to move into the urgent care space.

Lahey Health in Burlington, Mass., is one of those systems. It struck a partnership deal with CareWell Urgent Care earlier this year. CareWell, established in 2012, has nine locations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

"Lahey is rapidly expanding its system of care," says Richard Nesto, MD, CMO of Lahey Health. The system has added many new community hospital and physician partners of late, and wanted to get into the urgent care space as well, without building its own clinics. "It's an obvious marriage, so to speak. It achieves our goals of not using capital to build bricks and mortar to do this, yet we are going to make ourselves very available with easy access to our system, should patients who go to CareWell need access."LH CW cobrand vert 300 rgb

The partnership formalizes the referral relationship between Lahey and CareWell. It entails having CareWell providers refer patients to Lahey Health specialists and hospitals when patients need more acute care, and Lahey Health physicians can refer patients to nearby CareWell centers if an urgent care setting is more appropriate, as opposed to the emergency department, for example.

"The idea is to not see low acuity patients in the ER, particularly in a hospital where the ER is extremely busy," says Dr. Nesto. "The best venue for those patients is not our ER, but centers like CareWell."

Partnerships like this one boost care coordination through improved provider communication and can help lower the cost of care as well by treating patients in the most appropriate care setting.

Finding the right match

Lahey Health, for instance, did extensive due diligence on CareWell before deciding to partner with the urgent care operator. Dr. Nesto called CareWell a "high quality operation" with local presence in towns that extend the system's traditional patient base. "On the basis of that, we were very eager to get into this type of arrangement" with CareWell, he says.

CareWell was being courted by many hospitals and health systems interested in partnerships, according to Terry Giove, vice president of operations at CareWell. "A lot of the healthcare systems basically reached out to us…[and] we've been speaking with all the systems to see how we can collaborate and integrate care," she says.

But CareWell chose to partner first with Lahey Health because of its presence and reputation in the state. Even in areas that had no Lahey presence, providers at CareWell locations were "amazed at how many patients said they went to Lahey for their care," says Jack Cornwell, MD, Carewell's medical director. "It has a whole host of services and specialists available that make it very attractive for an urgent care network."

Integration outlook

To truly coordinate and improve patent care, the partnership requires communication between providers of both groups.

Right now, in the beginning stages of the referral relationship, CareWell and Lahey Health providers are sharing patient information the old fashioned way, through scanning notes and emails. But Lahey Health is in the process of switching to an Epic electronic medical records system, according to Dr. Nesto. "Epic interfaces with a lot of other EMRs, so we're quite confident there could be an interface" with CareWell's system, he says.

In the meantime, the relationship will keep being a win-win-win: both Lahey Health and CareWell benefit, as do the patients, who can receive care in the right setting for them and possibly at a lower cost.

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