Doctors Express: Peter Ross, CEO

by HCE Exchange on September 7, 2011

Healthcare in the United States is facing numerous challenges to providing quality, timely care –- emergency room wait times, a shortage of primary-care physicians, and looming healthcare reform. One organization is working to fill some of these gaps through urgent-care facilities. Doctors Express is the first-ever national urgent-care franchise. The franchise is dedicated to one specific mission—providing high-quality, convenient, low-cost care.

Doctors Express’ business model offers streamlined processes and a specific goal of providing only urgent care. This includes episodic care, physicals, minor acute care and occupational therapy. The facilities do not manage chronic conditions and work closely with primary-care providers to send patients back for ongoing care.

Developing the model

Doctors Express follows a tried-and-true franchise model that is maintained across all franchisees. This includes a similar look, service offering and equipment.  Peter Ross, Chief Executive Officer, has had experience with a similar model in home senior care, having franchised Senior Helpers, now with 300 locations across the country.  Doctors Express has 33 centers open with 60 scheduled to be open by the end of this year.

“We provide all the tools and programs, equipment, and supplies so that when you walk in each facility will look and feel the same,” Ross said. “We use the same contractor so our facilities have similar color schemes, millwork and even waiting-room furniture. “

Ross keeps the services offered specific to traditional urgent care with a focus not only on providing quality health care, but also keeping an eye on the business of health care. Each center is moderately sized at about 2,000 to 3,000 square feet and offers similar services.

“We have a full digital X-ray on site, a lab for basic urgent care and occupational health medicine, and on-site medication dispensing so patients don’t have to make another stop at the pharmacy,” he said. “All patients are seen by a physician. Our technology is not overly complicated. We have quality equipment to do what we need to do.”

So far, this model has served Doctors Express well. The franchise is rapidly growing and stays focused on becoming the national leader in urgent care. Ross said he hopes to expand the franchise to 300 to 400 centers in the next five to seven years.

Fitting into the healthcare market

As expected, hospitals were a little suspicious of the Doctors Express centers cropping up. However, Ross says the perception is changing, especially as the healthcare market looks toward reform and faces current shortages within the healthcare system.

“We work closely with hospitals and try to relieve some burden on the emergency rooms,” he said.

Urgent care centers save money by treating health issues that aren’t life-threatening. Ross said an urgent-care visit is about $125, whereas an ER visit can cost on average almost $600. By having patients utilize an urgent-care center, Doctors Express helps hospitals focus on the major medical issues such as stroke, heart attacks and traumas. Those visits often lead to hospital admissions and cost thousands of dollars.

“Even when hospitals operate urgent-care centers, they often run them as emergency rooms,” Ross said. “We are a high-performance operation; we really drive volume and provide quick quality healthcare within the community. This should help hospitals in the long run.”

Primary-care physicians are facing a shortage in this country, and Doctors Express can provide assistance in filling the gap. A Doctors Express center can usually see walk-in patients with only a 15-minute wait. Centers are open seven days a week from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, allowing more convenience for physicals or basic sick visits. Patients are referred back to their primary-care provider for any ongoing care and Doctors Express sends their procedure notes to the patient’s physician.

In addition to working with hospitals, Doctors Express is looking toward the future of healthcare reform. Although many healthcare facilities are struggling with how they fit into looming reform, Doctors Express sees some aspects of reform as beneficial to patients and their services.

Doctors Express takes all types of insurance and cash, but does not treat patients without the ability to pay. With healthcare reform requiring everyone to have health insurance, Doctors Express expects to see many more patients and further relieve the burden on emergency rooms.

“We see healthcare reform as an advantage because we will be able to service and treat patients who would not otherwise be treated today,” Ross said. “It is a shame when people go to the ER and run up wait times to 4.5 hours. We want to work with ERs so they can focus on the patients they treat best.”

Currently, urgent care is a fragmented industry with urgent-care facilities providing a wide range of services in addition to treating basic illnesses, minor acute care, and occupational health. Doctors Express wants to continue to become the best at providing quality, convenient, low-cost healthcare and filling shortages within the healthcare system.

-by Patricia Chaney

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