Prioritizing Patients and Health Care Access

May 09, 2018

Kendra Parks

One of the biggest issues currently debated in the United States is our health care system and its various problems. One problem in particular that American Family Care Founder and CEO Dr. Bruce Irwin has always noticed is the shortage to health care access.

“Lack of access to health care is a major health care problem,” Dr. Irwin said on Thursday, May 3, during the Distinguished Leaders Lecture Series. “If you make it accessible, problems will be figured out quicker, and better results will be determined at cheaper costs,” he said.

American Family Care, or AFC for short, is an urgent care facility that Dr. Irwin started in 1982. The first office opened its doors in Birmingham, Alabama. Currently, AFC has more than 160 clinics and 500 in-network physicians who see 2 million patients a year. They have more than 200 locations spread across 26 states. AFC also offers urgent care franchise opportunities to interested investors.

Once he started practicing medicine, one of the first issues Dr. Irwin noticed was that there were too many non-emergency patients waiting to be seen in the emergency room. Because of this concern, he was one of the first ten people who envisioned opening an urgent care practice, and he was the first individual to do so within the Southeastern United States.

“Too many people in the ER created (a need for) urgent cares,” said Dr. Irwin.

GOMER, said Dr. Irwin, is an acronym that some doctors used to refer to patients whom they felt were clogging up the emergency room. It stands for “get out of my emergency room.”

Besides noting that there was a need for patients who were being overlooked in emergency rooms to be treated faster, he realized that these patients are valuable.

“Patients have a choice and are realizing that,” said Dr. Irwin. Because of this, he wanted and still insists that his company give more attention to the needs of the patients.

He also ensures that employees recognize and take care of any complaints that any of his clinics receive.

In fact, one of the first key drivers of the AFC business model is that they are “patient centered.”

When questioned about how patients communicate and are treated who come in and only speak Spanish, Dr. Irwin said they have a solution for that.

“Almost all locations have someone who speaks Spanish, or we have a service to call into if none are available at the clinic,” said Dr. Irwin.

Embracing technology, such as this translation service, is another key driver of AFC business model.

“We constantly use technology,” said Dr. Irwin. “Our doctors are probably more closely managed than anybody in health care, and they always have been. We track everything. We track how long they are with a patient; if it’s too short, then we go back and look at their medical records, and see if they’re providing adequate care or not. If it’s too long, we want to know.”

“We have a benchmark standard of care, which we compare to national standards of care,” said Dr. Irwin.

All of the American Family Care facilities are “poised to meet and identify medical problems by doctors who are trained,” said Dr. Irwin.

When necessary, though not often, Dr. Irwin’s doctors know when to refer patients out to other health care providers.

Only about 2% of AFC patients are referred directly to the emergency room and about 20% of AFC patients are referred to specialists.

“A good doctor is not what he knows, but knows what he doesn’t know,” said Dr. Irwin.

AFC is opening a new clinic every 10 days, and projects 30-45 new clinics will be open by the end of the year within the United States.

Dr. Irwin is now taking his mission of making access to health care readily available overseas. He is now conducting business in China, where there is currently no primary care available. To remedy this situation, he plans to open clinics in about two years in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.

Ideally, Dr. Irwin has a five-year plan, where health care will be available to every Chinese citizen within thirty miles.

Dr. Irwin is also conducting business in Mexico, where he has owned part of a family practice company for about 12 years, which has about 15 clinics.

After all, the vision of AFC is “to become one of the most widely known and admired brands in health care.”

Click here to view photos from this event. 

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