Solantic: Karen Bowling, CEO

by HCE Exchange on August 19, 2010

When you first walk into a Solantic Urgent Care Center, you might not think you are in a medical office. With a fee schedule that looks more like a coffee house menu, colorful design effects and a waiting room that isn’t full of frustrated patients in waiting, Solantic doesn’t seem anything like your typical doctor’s office. And that’s because it’s not. Solantic Urgent Care is attempting to change the face of how medical care is delivered and is experiencing great success due to its unconventional approach.

No Hassle Health Care

With 30 locations throughout Florida, this eight year-old company has carved out a niche for itself by providing convenient care to residents needing urgent care who would typically have to resort to the emergency room for treatments. These are typically visits that require immediate attention, but not serious enough to warrant the aid of an emergency room’s critical care capabilities.

Solantic also delivers a full complement of wellness services, including immunizations, physicals and screenings. “There is definitely a trend in the medical community today that’s moving back to a focus on wellness,” says Karen Bowling, CEO and co-founder. “Before, this concept would typically mean companies passing along more of the insurance premiums to employees, but now the focus is to encourage healthier lifestyles.” The company also combines wellness tests and screening into tailored packages that are either disease or age and gender specific.

The organization’s main goal is to provide convenient health care at a fair price with as little hassle as possible.  This means Solantic has had to get creative with the way it dispenses its services, branding and marketing itself as a user-friendly service. One of the most obvious features is the standardized fee schedule which is prominently posted on the company’s web site and in each reception area. Prices are categorized for urgent care by the degree of service, and there are flat fees for wellness services. “We never tried to figure out what’s the most we can make, we’ve always tried to figure out what our costs are and what is a fair margin,” says Bowling. “We were probably, if not the first, among the first to have total price transparency, so this is one way we have really differentiated ourselves in the industry.”

Bowling’s marketing background has been instrumental in bringing a retail mindset to Solantic’s health care services, which has made the organization run more efficiently and attract new customers.

Solantic centers are positioned in retail locations so they are convenient to the community, and the atmosphere and image the company presents to the patient/customer is always a top priority. Interiors are colorful and relaxing, designed to look more like a café than a clinic. Staff must be non-smokers, who present a polished image free of body art or piercings. Each office provides free snacks, television entertainment in the waiting room and a patient queue monitor that shows how many patients are being treated at the center. This last feature allows incoming patients to check on the wait time. “You can check and if the wait is fifteen minutes you can go next door to Starbucks and leave your cell phone number with us and we will give you a call when the doctor is ready for you,” explains Bowling. “We also have a call-ahead program and have redesigned our web site to allow patients to register online and receive text messages when doctors are ready to see them.” Solantic’s ultimate goal is to be continually crafting its services around the needs of the patient to make visiting one of their clinics as convenient as possible.

Making Things Easy on Employers

Solantic is in the midst of rolling out a discount card that will especially help small employers who don’t offer health plans. These cards act like debit cards and allow employers to purchase cards with the requested dollar amount, then distribute them to employees to pay for services received at any of Solantic’s walk-in urgent care centers.  The cards can act as a low-cost wellness plan for employers who only offer catastrophic coverage.

Acquisitions Prove Profitable

In 2008, Solantic acquired three practices, with another added in 2009. “We benefit from the built-in patient stream and the medical staff already in place, so all we need to do is just go in and convert the practice to Solantic. I see a great potential going forward for growth from acquisitions,” adds Bowling.

In addition to acquisitions, Solantic is also beginning to branch out into the formation of joint ventures with hospital systems. Co-owned centers are in the works as many hospitals look for alternatives to unnecessary emergency room visits. Bowling says patients are also looking for an alternative to the ER as co-payments for these visits continue to rise. Solantic currently has partnerships with Bethesda Healthcare System of Boynton Beach, HMA’s Sebastian River Medical Center located in Florida’s Treasure Coast, Shands HealthCare in Gainesville, and Tenet Healthcare Corporation in West Palm Beach.  “It’s a win-win for everyone as the hospitals educate the patients on urgent care and the hospital automatically gets referrals when patients require additional care,” adds Bowling.

In addition, the company recently launched franchising efforts.  “We carefully and thoughtfully fine-tuned our model since the company’s inception and have all of the systems and processes in place to support physicians who have a desire to own their own Solantic center,” says Bowling.  “In a growing medical services category such as urgent care, and with a model that proven to be highly successful, we believe the opportunities for additional growth through franchising are evident.”

Keeping Customers Coming Back

Solantic focuses heavily on patient satisfaction level as the primary driver for success. This stems from the retail philosophy behind the organization and Solantic can boast constantly improving scores. “We’ve measured customer satisfaction from the very first patient,” says Bowling. “Our employees receive a base compensation, plus bonuses based on customer satisfaction and this has helped connect everyone together and get us all working toward the same goal. Nothing matters more than our patient satisfaction scores and we are pleased to say that 98% of our patients report that they will return or recommend us in the future. That score is the best award we can obtain.”

-by Jacqueline Rupp

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