While ambulatory clinics have been part of healthcare systems for many years, shifts in the political and competitive environment have led to a renewed focus on ambulatory clinic strategy. The primary purpose of today’s ambulatory clinic initiatives is to support population health and cost reduction goals by delivering care in a convenient, lower-cost setting.
There are many factors to consider when planning new ambulatory healthcare facilities, but the basic principles remain the same. Here’s what you need to know.
Defining Terms: What is an Ambulatory Clinic?
An ambulatory clinic is any healthcare facility that does not offer acute care (treatments requiring hospitalization). Ambulatory clinics include traditional primary care offices as well as urgent care/freestanding emergency departments, retail health clinics, and specialty clinics.
Determining the Organization's Growth Strategy: Organic Growth or Partnerships?
One of the first questions you need to answer when defining your ambulatory clinic strategy is whether you intend to grow organically through new greenfield facilities or to grow through acquisitions/partnerships. Growing through new greenfield facilities offers greater control, but growing through partnerships allows for more rapid growth at a potentially lower cost.
In some regions, the answer to this question is dictated by state law. Some states do not allow hospitals to maintain outright ownership of ambulatory clinics, which means that affiliations are the only option for growth. If you plan to expand beyond your traditional service area, begin by checking local laws to understand which options are available.
Planning Ambulatory Clinics: Find the Right Match
Ambulatory clinics rely heavily on the promise of convenience. Patients aren’t willing to drive as far for routine care as they are for acute care, so it’s important to place clinics in locations that allow your system to reach patients where they live and work. Consider the following factors when planning a new clinic or reimagining an existing facility:
- Patient profiles: Demographics can be a helpful indicator of the type of clinic that is likely to be the best fit for the area, particularly metrics on age and income levels. But demographics alone don’t tell the full story. A psychographic patient profile dives deeper into the lifestyles of consumers to identify which ones are likely to visit your facility and which ones are not. Look for locations that place your facilities near consumers who match your patient profile.
- Service line demand: To ensure that you offer the right services at each ambulatory clinic, it’s critical to match the location with service line demand. You don’t want to open a cardiology specialty clinic in an area that doesn’t have enough demand to sustain the practice.
- Competition: In addition to examining service line demand, you also need to examine the existing healthcare supply for that service line. The goal is to identify pockets of unmet demand rather than to enter a trade area that is already saturated.
- Payer mix: Understanding whether consumers in the trade area are likely to use commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or be uninsured can also help you to plan your clinic placement and services accordingly.
Service line models and consumer analytics for healthcare can help health systems study a market and identify trade areas that meet the criteria required for success. This technique is particularly helpful when entering a new market.
Measuring and Maximizing Results: Emphasize Data Sharing
One of the primary goals of today’s ambulatory clinic networks is to better care for the population in an area and reduce the need for costly acute care. To accomplish this, the health system needs access to ambulatory clinic data to analyze visit history and determine if the current strategy is truly helping to keep the population healthier over time. Sharing data also helps deepen the ties between clinic physicians and the health system, encouraging physicians to leverage the resources available through the system when referring patients for additional care.
If your system’s growth strategy relies on affiliations and partnerships, be sure to include data sharing agreements to the extent allowed by law to foster deeper relationships.
The Bottom Line
Defining an ambulatory clinic growth strategy isn’t difficult, but it requires the right resources. To learn more about how consumer analytics targeted for healthcare can help you to make the right ambulatory planning decisions, download our report “Growing Market Share Through Consumer Analytics.”