Healthcare News & Insights

Accreditation is not one size fits all, particularly with urgent care centers

The number of urgent care centers in the United States continues to grow – with more than 8,800 currently, up from 8,125 in 2018 – due to a need in the marketplace and patient preferences for on-demand access to care. Hospitals and health systems recognize the value urgent care centers bring by offering convenient and affordable care to patients when and where they need it most and are investing in on-demand care at a rapid rate.

This consistent, sustained growth of urgent care centers nationwide has put a spotlight on the need to hold each facility to a set of industry-recognized standards regarding patient safety and quality of care. In this guest post, Cindi Lang, RN, MS, accreditation & certification content advisor for the Urgent Care Association, explains how urgent care centers benefit from a formal accreditation process.

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Value of accreditation in urgent care

Accreditation raises the bar for an organization in terms of quality and safety. Just like hospitals and other healthcare facilities, urgent care centers can benefit greatly from a formal accreditation process.

The accreditation process helps the urgent care industry develop and implement consistent processes across all sites, creating standard routine practices and leading to many efficiencies. It’s important to engage staff in the processes of both preparing for and maintaining accreditation, as these activities improve morale and cooperation between teams tremendously.

In preparing to apply for accreditation, teamwork is required to develop and learn new policies and procedures. Thus, achieving accreditation can generate a sense of pride and accomplishment within teams. Employees are proud to work in accredited facilities, demonstrating their commitment to quality of care and patient safety to their communities, payors and others in the healthcare industry.

Once accredited, organizations can use the distinction to market their services to patients and improve negotiations with payors. The achievement will set them apart from competitors in the region and improve teamwork internally with the implementation of best practices and processes. Similarly, getting accredited levels the playing field when other competitors in the area are already accredited.

What to look for in an accreditor

There are several accreditors available to urgent care centers, but not all are created equal. Aside from conducting an accreditation survey every three years, consider the other ways the right accreditor can help improve long-term success for a center.

Specialization
Urgent care centers are a unique type of healthcare facility, operating with closely-knit teams to provide on-demand care to large volumes of patients daily. Urgent care centers play a vital role in the continuum of care, closing the gap between primary care and emergency departments, allowing immediate access to episodic care without overburdening busy emergency departments.

This distinctive role calls for specialized accreditation to ensure the most accurate review of a center’s quality of care and overall efficiency. Rather than running the risk of having a surveyor with no urgent care experience just go through the motions, look for an accreditor that offers an accreditation process developed by urgent care professionals for urgent care professionals. Opting for a specialist rather than a generalist accreditor will help an organization establish the right processes and procedures to improve urgent care performance and strengthen overall efficiency.

Specialized accreditation utilizes standards that cover the scope of care in the urgent care setting, beyond just safety and quality. This is especially important for hospitals and health systems adding urgent care to their services, as the expert insight into building, integrating and sustaining the urgent care delivery model will boost long-term success. The surveyors reviewing the center’s operations will be urgent care professionals, creating a true peer review process by experts who understand how urgent care centers operate and what is needed for them to succeed.

Price
A specialized accreditor will offer more than an expert approach to accreditation, possibly coming in at a more affordable price as well. Urgent care-focused accreditors will be able to provide resources and expert insight specific to the industry based off years of experience developing best practices for the on-demand care delivery model. Because they’re not also providing these services to other types of facilities, their overall cost may be lower.

In addition, specialized accreditors understand the financial challenges urgent care centers face, and offer services and resources priced to meet their needs. This is vital for both small and medium urgent care centers operating on tight budgets, as well as large health systems that are integrating urgent care into their portfolios for the first time.

Resources
When working with the right accreditor, urgent care centers enjoy ongoing access to information, resources and educational opportunities to improve operations and quality of care. Centers can discuss concerns or have their questions answered by experts in the field, as well as participate in a variety of educational events such as mock surveys, webinars or accreditation workshops.

Some may offer an annual compliance review to help urgent care centers identify any areas of weakness that should be improved upon before their next accreditation survey. Consider an accreditor that offers these resources designed by other urgent care professionals for year-round access to ongoing education and quality improvement.

Comradery
Urgent care centers should see their accreditor as a friend or colleague ready to help them prepare for the survey and raise the bar on performance throughout the accreditation term. It’s important for centers to feel they have a personal relationship with their accreditor, allowing them to openly discuss different ways to enhance operations and work together to achieve improved outcomes.

Look for an accreditor that offers support and guidance through all stages of urgent care development – from opening a center and preparing for accreditation, to marketing to the community and negotiating with payors. Ongoing access to tools and expert consultation creates a more collaborative accreditation experience where all parties involved share the common goal of improving quality of care and patient safety through innovation and best practices.

Evolving support
The urgent care industry is booming, but it’s also relatively new compared to other healthcare disciplines. With the popularity of urgent care continuing to grow, many centers are integrating specialized services such as occupational medicine and pediatric care – and there’s potential for more growth and innovation in the future. As the types of services associated with on-demand care evolve, so too will the best practices for meeting patient needs.

Therefore, it’s important for an urgent care accreditor to embrace the ever-changing, on-demand landscape and offer education and resources that evolve alongside the industry. Look for an accreditor that not only delivers the most up-to-date information and best practices, but also offers a forward-looking approach to services, patient care and innovation. This foresight will require expertise in urgent care specifically, building off experience in the field and industry insight.

Patients, providers and payors all want accreditation

By offering convenient, affordable and accessible services, urgent care centers are designed with patient needs and satisfaction in mind. Many patients look for the highest quality care from centers that have been formally surveyed against industry standards. Placing quality and safety at the forefront, urgent care accreditation ensures a certain level of care at each facility, providing patients with peace of mind when they seek treatment.

Likewise, many center employees appreciate the accreditation process to tighten security and safety protocols at their workplace. Healthcare workers on the front line may encounter dangerous circumstances while providing care. Becoming accredited helps to assure that the facility has adopted the necessary procedures to keep all staff and patients safe in a variety of situations.

In addition, payors in many states across the country are requiring accreditation of urgent care centers to allow them in their network. Accredited centers undergo rigorous site surveys to demonstrate that they’ve met nationally standardized criteria to provide high-level care. This recognition can be useful when negotiating with payors.

Not only does accreditation demonstrate compliance with industry standards, but it also improves patient satisfaction, boosts overall facility safety, and strengthens the bottom line for urgent care centers and payors. Therefore, it is imperative for healthcare leaders to make urgent care accreditation a priority and look for an accreditor that offers specialized resources and expertise to ensure long-term success.

Cindi Lang, RN, MS, is the accreditation and certification content advisor for the Urgent Care Association (UCA), which offers an accreditation program for urgent care centers that demonstrates their commitment to quality care and patient safety. UCA hosts annual Accreditation Workshops for urgent care operators in all phases of the accreditation process that center around hands-on activities and expert insight.

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