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Outpatient Growth Must Keep Pace with Population

Jacqueline Fellows, April 22, 2013

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

As healthcare leaders continue to face reimbursement challenges, the No. 1 strategy they are embracing to fuel financial growth is expansion of outpatient services. This approach—cited by 69% of hospital leaders and 66% of health system leaders in the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2013—presents attractive opportunities for organizations large and small, especially in light of anticipated growth in patient volume as millions of Americans become insured under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In the Houston area, strong population growth also has been a factor in outpatient services planning.

One part of the strategy is basic, says Rod Brace, chief regional operations officer for Memorial Hermann Health System, 12-hospital, 3,514-licensed-bed nonprofit. "Our approach at Memorial Hermann has been to grow with Houston."

That's easier said than done considering the massive increase in population and economic activity in the port city known for its oil and gas industry.

Patrick Jankowski, vice president of research for the Greater Houston Partnership, the city's main business and economic organization, says there are an additional 1.3 million more people living in Houston since 2000. The city also has seen a rapid rise in jobs recently.

"The recession bottomed out for us in February of 2010. Starting then, the region started adding jobs and we've added jobs every month since," he says.

Dots on a map and beyond
Memorial Hermann says it started planning for growth 10 years ago, but back then it was cheaper to "put a dot on the map" with ambulatory care sites. Now, with Houston's map nearly filled in with 110 of the organization's ambulatory sites, Memorial Hermann is introducing a new concept for patient care.

The massive system recently opened its first all-in-one service site called Convenient Care Center Summer Creek, a pilot that is meant to be a one-stop shop for patients in the growing Summer Creek suburb on the northeast side of Houston. The $7.4 million medical center opened the doors to its 30,000-square-foot facility in January. It includes nearly everything except hospital beds. There's a 24-hour emergency room, primary care physicians, specialty physicians, imaging, physical therapy, and other related services.

"The goal is to make it more convenient; it's to reduce some of the fragmented nature of healthcare," says Brace. "In the past, I had to go to the imaging center, then go for orthopedic surgery, then drive over here for my PT. And so [at] the Convenient Care Center site, you go in, you're triaged. If it's an emergency, you go to the emergency room, you pay an emergency room bill; if it's not, then we take walk-ins over on the primary care side, and you pay a primary care bill. It takes that guesswork out."

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