Hospitals in Central Ohio aim for greater patient access, convenience, low prices

How central Ohio’s hospital systems are meeting consumer expectations for access, convenience and low prices.

Laura Newpoff
For Columbus CEO
OSU Wexner Outpatient Care New Albany

When Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center decided to embark on its next big facilities expansion, it put shovels in the ground 18 miles away from its main hospital on West 10th Avenue. The new Outpatient Care New Albany was created to give residents high-quality care and easy access to the university’s research and nationally ranked experts right in their own neighborhood.

The project is symbolic of an ongoing push by health systems across the U.S. to meet the rapidly changing expectations of health care consumers. Sometimes referred to as the “retailization” of healthcare, it’s a shift from a physician-centric model to a consumer-driven one, much like retailers are focused on serving their customers. Consumers, management consulting firm Kaufman Hall reports, want access, convenience and low prices and, increasingly, they are shopping for that outside of traditional hospital settings. Forty-six percent of hospitals and health systems surveyed by the firm “have a thoughtful approach to becoming more consumer-centric, investing in infrastructure and initiatives that are being expanded system-wide.”

OSU Wexner Medical Center has 46 outpatient care locations, the first of which opened in 1993 in Dublin. The $137.9 million, 251,000-square foot New Albany facility opened in August 2021 at the corner of Route 161 and Hamilton Road. It’s a one-stop-shop for patients to have multiple appointments with different healthcare providers across the range of their needs, from prevention to surgery. 

Amenities include an onsite pharmacy, the BistrOH café and an outdoor courtyard. An Advanced Immediate Care center gives patients access to emergency medicine specialists without the cost, wait times or travel to a traditional emergency department. Legally, the new facility could have been set up as a hospital-based center. Because it wasn’t, it is more affordable for patients. Similar facilities are planned for Dublin and Powell.

Arick Forrest, MD, MBA, OSU Wexner Medical Center

Dr. L. Arick Forrest, president of OSU Physicians, which provides outpatient care, says in today’s technology driven world the hospital has several different ways to engage with patients. But when they need to come for an in-person visit, they want to come to a place that feels comfortable and is affordable, close to home and easy to access.

“Consumerism is more of a thing in health care than ever before,” Forrest says. “This [new facility] is a one-stop-shop for complete care instead of having to go to multiple sites. You can do physical therapy, have your imaging done and fill your prescription all in one place.”

The push toward consumerism also gives hospital systems a chance to get involved with their communities. Upper Arlington, for example, selected Wexner Medical as its wellness partner as part of a new community center initiative, says Dan Like, chief administrative officer of ambulatory services at the health system. He told the Columbus Dispatch last year that the hospital will be able to complement the city’s vision by providing “cancer survivorship and integrative medicine programs, an outpatient physical therapy clinic and a variety of complementary interdisciplinary health and wellness programs in collaboration with the city and its program and services.” 

The focus on consumers also applies to inner-city communities. OSU Wexner Medical Center has opened Advanced Immediate Care East on Taylor Avenue, for example. The university also is turning the former Columbus Metropolitan Library Martin Luther King Jr. branch into a healthy community center for the Near East side.

“We want to become a part of communities and embrace them,” says Forrest, who also is an ear, nose and throat physician at Wexner Medical Center. “You don’t do that just by throwing a building up. You do that by getting involved.”

OhioHealth and Mount Carmel Health System also have spent years bringing outpatient facilities into communities. OhioHealth has more than 200 different offices, clinics and medical campuses while Mount Carmel has more than 100 different practice locations outside of its hospitals.

At OhioHealth, the shift toward the consumer began in earnest about seven years ago when the health system decided it would try to put freestanding emergency departments within a seven- to 10-minute drive of everyone in central Ohio. There are eight of them now. The health system has implemented a slew of other measures to make sure it is giving its patients what they want, including opening locations in retail centers, increasing access to digital tools and telehealth services, introducing curbside care and building new facilities in a sustainable manner with pleasing features like natural lighting and nature settings.

OhioHealth also is revamping its Westerville Medical Campus to bring in more oncology services to make them easier to access for people who live in that part of the region.

“We are as intensely focused on listening to the voice of our customer as we are identifying access points, designing buildings and looking at the services we offer,” says Johnni Beckel, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at OhioHealth. “We are designing and developing programs with them so we meet them where they are and are providing services for what they want.”

And the outcomes?

Patients’ satisfaction means they are likely to seek treatment more proactively, which impacts the quality of their health and also allows them to avoid costs associated with emergency room visits or hospital stays, says Michael Krouse, senior vice president and chief transformation officer at OhioHealth.

“If we truly connect with patients, provide them with the best care and meet them where they are in their health care journey, their loyalty will become an outcome of the consumer-focused approach rather than an input into our philosophy about how we move in this space,” he says.

At Mount Carmel, there’s also been a push to increase access to care by bringing more free-standing emergency rooms to central Ohio, including its second such facility that opened in Reynoldsburg in 2021.

Health care consumerism, however, isn’t just about outpatient locations, says Mike Moran, president of Mount Carmel Medical Group. The “digital front door” is a strategy for engaging patients at every major touchpoint of their journey using technology that they have already adopted for everyday use. A strong digital front door strategy leverages technology to expand patient access, improve productivity and drive higher patient satisfaction. Through their own devices and technology they’re already familiar with, patients can schedule appointments and check in online, keep track of follow-up appointments, apply for pre-authorizations, view test results, make payments and more.

“It’s akin to the type of service that the travel and hospitality industries offer you when you book rental cars, airline tickets and hotel rooms,” Moran says. “Health care, through this consumer-focused approach, is trying to offer that level of service in the same way. How can patients find, schedule, register and get authorized prior to arrival at their appointment so that when they step into the clinic all they have to do is say, ‘I’m here.’”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.