by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The path to owning your own medical practice typically runs through more than a decade of schooling, grinding through medical school, residency and years of specialty training.
Unless you’re Rick Crews. “I knew next to nothing about health care,” says the proud owner of four urgent care clinics in Massachusetts. The former UBS financial advisor isn’t a board-certified physician–he’s a franchisee, one of hundreds who, along with some of the biggest private equity and venture capital firms, are betting that they can use the retail lessons of McDonald’s to turn the health care world upside down. And in their quest to make M.D.s wielding stethoscopes as accessible as baristas at Starbucks , they just might rescue America from its looming health care catastrophe.
The key is that the 10,000 urgent care clinics across the country, handling 160 million visits annually, are an appealing medical model wrapped up in a proven consumer-driven business plan. Put simply, urgent care is the first retail health play. The burgeoning $16 billion industry depends on location, customer service and brand, just like a restaurant or grocer. Because nobody plans to be sick, clinics aren’t squirreled away in an office park or medical building. They are placed in highly visible, highly trafficked locations minutes from patients’ work and home, off a busy highway or next to a Wal-Mart. No appointment necessary–stop by 12 hours a day, including weekends. Walk in with the flu, with a broken bone or sprain, with a cut that needs stitches. See a doctor on average within 20 minutes, get an X-ray or prescription, and get back to your life–all at perhaps 20% of the cost of an ER visit.
The holy grail is a replicable Golden Arches-style model that puts a branded urgent care shop on every corner–and that’s what smart money has been chasing in a long list of deals over the last few years.