Branding Urgent Care: A Journey in Shifting Acute Outpatient Care Away from the Emergency Department


David Glass, PhD; Kathy Kigerl, RN, MN; John Shohfi, MD;
Michael Neri, Jr, MD

Introduction: The Urgent Care Strategic Workgroup engaged in a four-year journey (2012 to 2016) to reposition and rebrand urgent care at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. The mission is to provide convenient services for patients who perceive symptoms as needing urgent attention and do not want to inappropriately use the Emergency Department (ED). The “overuse” or “misuse” of the ED is a longstanding issue inside and outside of Kaiser Permanente.
Methods: In a qualitative study in 2012, the Workgroup found that members were often confused about the location, hours, and services of urgent care. Those going to the ED in low-acuity situations often sought guidance and were directed to go to the ED either indirectly (eg, lack of appointments in primary care) or directly.
The Workgroup, building on these insights, made the following interventions:
1. Standardized urgent care clinics across the Region in terms of services provided and more closely aligned hours of operation (through the development of a “playbook” and a certification process)
2. Implemented a marketing campaign on urgent care
3. Cobranded Urgent Care and ED signage on campuses to make the choice more obvious to patients at the point of service.
Results: Eighty percent of Southern California Kaiser Permanente members are now aware of the location and services at Urgent Care. After 4 years, low acuity visits to the ED dropped 32% whereas urgent care increased by 39%.
Discussion: Members are often confused about the appropriate place to seek care in nonlife-threatening but acute situations in which they are in a great deal of pain. It is possible to brand urgent care, lower the confusion, and substitute urgent care visits for low-acuity ED visits.


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