AFC Urgent Care Franchise Gears Up to Fight COVID-19
The pod at left is a self-contained exam room, where AFC Urgent Care providers can triage patients with COVID-19 symptoms, yet keep them separate from people in the clinics.
Triage pods in the parking lots, where patients with COVID-19 symptoms are examined in isolation. Initial telemedicine exams for people who don't wish to come in. And testing for the virus for anyone who shows up, outside the clinic, with gloved and masked healthcare providers—with more than 200 tests conducted so far.
These are the innovations rolled out at five AFC Urgent Care clinics in Portland, Oregon, where owner Guru Sankar is trying to relieve an overburdened hospital and ER system while at the same time keeping his clinics' doors open.
"The phrase I keep using here is we're trying to build an airplane while we're flying it," said Sankar, who began testing for COVID-19 in clinic parking lots in February and then made the other changes beginning last week.
"We were kind of in a dilemma of, we do have an essential service to provide, because whatever we can take care of relieves the pressure on hospitals and emergency rooms," he said. "But at the same time, we're a small business like any other business. So, if we don't have the volume of business coming through the door, we can't stay open."
His AFC Urgent Care clinics usually see four to five patients each hour. But "the dynamic became different" after Washington and Oregon decreed shelter-in-place orders. "Now people don't want to risk going to see a doctor, because these are infectious places. What was generally in the past may not be that urgent anymore." Patient visits declined 30 to 40 percent last month, he estimated.
He also reduced hours at his clinics, cutting evening and weekend hours since so many people are not working so do not need the extended times. "We generally either stabilized or are on the way to stabilizing in terms of number of patients we see per hour," he said.
American Family Care is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with 236 urgent and accessible primary care clinics in more than 25 states. Sankar opened his first clinic, then called Doctors Express, in 2011.
Sankar said his clinics and others in the AFC system are well-supplied with testing kits and PPE, personal protective equipment, because the chain geared up during the Ebola outbreak in 2014. That outbreak turned out to have a much smaller impact in the United States than feared.
The franchisor, too, has "been getting some strategic sourcing done from overseas. We're also partnered with McKesson," the large medical supplies provider.
The care providers in his clinics appreciate the changes, he said. "That has been one of the most uplifting things from all this. They have responded tremendously. They've appreciated how we've looked after their safety, and how we are constantly adapting an improving" ways to treat patients. It's been a virtuous cycle," he said.
After all, he added, "We're a healthcare company and this is what we do."