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Calming Words, Quick Moves by American Family Care CEO


"A virus gotta do what a virus gotta do," said Dr. Bruce Irwin, CEO of American Family Care clinics, which are playing a stepped-up role in the battle.

Dr. Bruce Irwin, CEO of American Family Care, is rolling out a new service for his chain of urgent care clinics: rapid testing for the novel coronavirus or its antibodies for employers. That's just one of a handful of moves quickly implemented since March that has put the franchise front and center in providing healthcare during the pandemic.

"We're in the process of trademarking our AFC COVIDSafe Workplace, because we've been contacted by so many companies to do mass screening," he said. "They're desperate" to get employees back, and they can "partially hang their hat on" a test for antibodies that show if a person had the virus and built up at least partial immunity.

"I'm very, very proud of the whole operation, the way everybody stepped up. In times like these, you have to be able to pivot," he said in an interview last week. "You have to be able to figure out what society and the community needs and be able to quickly modify. It's almost like a factory that has to get on a war setting."

Friday the 13th was the day in March "everything broke loose," and Irwin and other execs were having lunch with one of the major insurance companies. "They told us starting Monday, we're going to start paying full fare for a tele-visit, same as if they were in your office."

AFC's telemedicine product, called TeleCare, was developed a few years ago but was sitting on a shelf because of reimbursement issues among other things. "We met at 8:30 on Monday morning" to discuss getting the product running. "By 9 o'clock the next morning, we had a telecare product that was operating in central Alabama; by Friday we had the whole state of Alabama covered." Twelve days in, and all franchisees had the system at no extra cost. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, AFC Urgent Care has roughly 64 corporate-owned and 180 franchised clinics.

AFC was also well positioned to obtain rapid tests for the virus that causes COVID-19, because of an existing relationship with Abbott Labs and their iMed products. "We had literally hundreds of their machines and placed them in our clinics across the country," to test for strep or the flu. "We were first in line" when tests came out for the active COVID-19 virus; and by mid-May AFC clinics were expected to have point-of-care, quick antibody tests from Abbott that have been approved by the FDA.

Irwin has the soothing "bedside manner" of the medical doctor that he is—straightforward yet not alarmist; serious yet with a touch of humor. He offered calming words about the novel coronavirus.

"The testing is more about getting an understanding of how this pathogen is behaving, and ways to decrease" its bad effects.

"In the end, a virus gotta do what a virus gotta do," he said, easily winning this reporter's unofficial award for quote of the week. "It is just a virus," although a scary one at this point because so little is known. "Fear is based on a lack of knowledge and the unknown," a situation that AFC clinics are doing their part to battle.


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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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