Expansion Mode Doctors Express Slates Second Location; More on Drawing Board

Rick Crews wanted to talk about the numbers — but then again, he didn’t.

At least, he didn’t want to get into any real detail, lest the competition would know exactly how well the first Doctors Express facility in the region, located on Cooley Street in Springfield, has fared in its mission to bridge the gap between the emergency room and the primary-care physician since it opened roughly 16 months ago.

Suffice it to say, noted Crews, who partnered with James Brennan to bring this unique brand of health care service to the region, that it has certainly done well enough to prompt a second Doctors Express location locally, now taking shape at the former International House of Pancakes facility on Park Street in West Springfield.

And there are several more locations in the works for the eastern part of the state as well, said Crews, noting that he and Brennan put forth an offering last June as part of an effort to raise $4 million in venture capital to open five centers in the Greater Boston area to be owned and operated by a limited partnership they will lead. Two, in Saugus and Dedham, are already under construction.

In addition, four franchisees have committed to opening an additional 10 locations in the Boston area, with three, in Brockton, Natick, and Newton, already in the process of being built out, he continued, noting that he and Brennan are “master franchisees” for Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Crews told HCN that the Springfield location has more than doubled its original goals for visitation, and is now officially No. 1 in terms of overall patient volume (more than 35 per day) among the 45 Doctors Express locations currently operating around the country. This is a track record that the two partners attribute to a blend of location, effective marketing, a product that meets a recognized need, and quality service.

“We’ve proven that this kind of service is needed, and that the model works,” said Brennan, describing Doctors Express as an urgent-care center providing walk-in, extended-hour, outpatient care for acute illnesses and injuries requiring immediate attention but not serious-enough in nature for the ER, offering an attractive alternative to a crowded emergency department or a primary-care physician’s office that may not be open or able to schedule an appointment for days or even weeks.

Said Crews, “when we opened, we delivered what we said we’d deliver — a positive patient experience. We got off to a great start because of our marketing and a lot of ground-floor hard work.

That hard work is now translating into rapid expansion, said the partners, noting that there will soon be perhaps 15 locations statewide that they will either operate themselves or franchise out.

For this issue, HCN looks at how Doctors Express was able to quickly and easily surpass its goals locally, and what’s next for this entrepreneurial success story.

Prescription for Growth

When asked about the factors that have contributed to the success of the Springfield location, Crews said it often comes down to what he called the “little things,” although there are some big things as well.

In that former category, he mentioned the cookies and bottles of water given to each patient as just two examples. Concerning the latter, he noted the high level respect with which each patient is treated, as well as the fact that most all those seeking services are in and out in an hour or less.

All this contributed to strong word-of-mouth referrals, said Brennan, which have translated into steadily rising visitation numbers, that have in turn led to staffing additions that have certainly become one barometer of success.

“We ramped up so quickly that we were a little understaffed to begin with, and we’ve had to adjust the numbers twice,” said Crews. “We started with one medical assistant, one X-ray tech, and the doctor, and quickly went to two MAs, an X-ray tech, and the doctor; and now we’re at three MAs, and on Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday mornings, we’ve been bringing in a second doctor to help with the flows, because those are our busiest times.”

The strong performance of the Cooley Street facility prompted the partners to begin a search several months ago for a second regional location. After a lengthy exploratory effort, they focused first on West Springfield — because of its of its proximity to many other population centers, including Agawam, Westfield, Holyoke, and parts of Springfield — and then on the Park Street location. It was chosen over other options on Riverdale Street and Memorial Avenue because of its accessibility, parking, and the specifications of the building, which will be partially demolished, expanded, and retrofitted for conversion into a Doctors Express.

“We canvassed the retail market for space that fit our square-footage criteria,” said Crews, noting that there were several locations in West Springfield that were considered. “What we kept coming back to was the old IHOP. It has great visibility, the size is perfect, there’s ample parking, and the location is central, right on the Route 20 corridor; it’s a prime location for us.”

The goal is to have the facility up and running by the the spring, said Crews, adding that further expansion in Western Mass. will be impacted by the level of success enjoyed by the West Springfield location, but the partners are already scouting additional locations, and are considering Chicopee, Holyoke, Amherst, and other communities as possible sites.

“We have the possibility of adding two more locations in this area,” he explained, “but we’re also making that push into the Boston area as well. There’s a commitment for 15 new Doctors Express facilities in the Boston area.”

Urgent Matter

Whether they will enjoy the same quick and profound success that the Springfield location has enjoyed remains to be seen. But Crews and Brennan believe they have a blueprint for success in that facility, to go with some actual blueprints for new construction and renovation at several sites in this market and Greater Boston.

In other words, momentum is building for Doctors Express, and in more ways than one.