It is no secret that the healthcare industry has gone through some significant changes within the last 13 years. One person who has been at the forefront of that change is Thom Herrmann.

Herrmann has guided some of the leading healthcare systems in the nation and is now pushing innovation through Intuitive Health by combining emergency departments and urgent care facilities that are in-network, saving the healthcare system and its patients money.

In 2009, Texas was the first state to issue independent freestanding emergency room permits. In 2018, the number of freestanding ERs in the state had grown to over 200. The new facilities allowed ER doctors to spend more time with patients, and they enjoyed working in the clean settings of the ER, but there were significant drawbacks.

Herrmann explains that one fundamental difficulty impeding the development of the freestanding ER model was that these entities operated outside of networks. This means they had not contracted with any health insurance carriers, which harmed the patient by making them pay higher costs.

“The other broken piece was generally patients showing up at a hospital ER, and they didn’t need emergency care. They just needed an urgent care visit; however, they tended to get a big emergency care bill because that [was] the only available service,” Herrmann told The Dallas Express.

Herrmann and the team at Intuitive Health decided to solve the problem. He worked with three emergency room doctors, healthcare systems, and insurance companies to create in-network locations that combined the benefits of a freestanding ER, such as good customer service and convenience, with insurance contracts to control prices.

On top of that, those ERs agreed to include urgent care, so the hybrid facility would not charge patients for emergency care they did not need.

Herrmann now manages the Plano-based company, which houses 14 different joint ventures with healthcare systems across 10 states.

As for his typical day, he stays busy.

“I spend a lot of time on Zoom calls and traveling out to work with our different team members. I’m handling operations with folks in the field and working with health systems executive teams at our partner facilities. I spend a lot of time on strategic issues. Also, internally, I’m working on ways that we can better serve our workforce and make sure that we’re keeping up with some of the changing demands,” says Herrmann.

It is clear Herrmann has a passion for making health care affordable, transparent, and convenient for all patients. It was a need Herrmann experienced firsthand that inspired him to work at Intuitive Health.

After taking his oldest son to a local urgent care doctor following hours of a 103-degree fever, Herrman was told he would have to go to the emergency room for blood tests that the urgent care could not perform.

“So I just spent an hour and a half with an uncomfortable child, only to have to drive across town and go to the ER, which I was trying to avoid in the first place. Fortunately, my son was fine. It was just a virus that would run its course, but I spent three and a half extra hours at the ER that I would have loved to have avoided,” says Herrmann.

The result was a $2,000 emergency room bill and an urgent care bill.

“So our model simplifies care. If a patient has any immediate care needs, they can come to us if it turns out that they only need urgent care level services. If it turns out they need ER life-saving services, we have all the same services available [as] at a hospital.”

According to Herrmann, getting these new facilities up and running in various markets was not easy.

“It’s tough, for compliance and operational reasons, to run these combined ER/urgent care centers, and [health systems] don’t know how to do it. They know there’s traditional urgent care in their market, which, you know, is fine. But if a patient shows up at traditional urgent care, and it turns out they have a serious condition [and need ER care], they’re putting their health at risk because time is life,” explains Herrmann.

On the other hand, if a patient needs urgent care and goes to the hospital ER, which Herrmann says happens approximately 40% of the time, they end up with an unnecessarily expensive emergency care bill. Herrmann notes that they would likely have paid a tenth of that cost if they had gone to urgent care instead.

In the end, Herrmann states, Intuitive Health is helping health systems bring a differentiated service to the communities it serves. Since health systems are not equipped to be as agile, Intuitive Health supports them to create a better service reputation while gaining more patients for its healthcare systems.

As for the future of health care, Herrmann says it will get closer to the patient, giving them more access to their needs to work with the population’s changing lifestyles.

“Health systems are good at operating inpatient hospital services; that’s their core competency. And they do it better than anybody else. But over time, health care has moved into a retail setting. Currently, independent retail providers offer Urgent Care, commercially available physician services, and ambulatory surgery centers,” explains Herrmann.

“CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aids are bringing care closer to the patient from a retail perspective. These are not traditional players. They come from a retail operational mindset that has moved into health care, bringing different tools,” says Herrmann.

While Herrmann admits the retail models are not necessarily better than the hospital from a clinical perspective, he says retail stores are used to working one-on-one with patients and providing better customer service. Health systems must now compete by adding better customer service and virtual and on-demand options while operating inpatient facilities.

Intuitive Care has assisted massive healthcare systems in competing in the retail arena by incorporating its hybrid ER/Urgent Care model to offer patients a better customer experience.

Herrmann says Intuitive Care will grow its ER/Urgent model by nine locations this year: Arkansas and Jacksonville, Florida, will get their first locations; Albuquerque, New Mexico, will get a third location; and the University of Florida Health System has partnered with Intuitive Care for six sites.

Intuitive Care shows no sign of slowing down, as it signed its most significant partnership with Virginia Mason, Franciscan Health in Washington state.