MedExpress' new logo mirrors personalized service

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At MedExpress, it's all about you.

Or, rather, it's all about ME -- which just happens to be the initials of the fast-growing West Virginia-based urgent care clinic -- as reflected in the company's new logo, part of a marketing and rebranding campaign being rolled out this week.

"For us, it's about the individual patient," said Julie Penn, MedExpress's chief marketing officer, and the company's initials provided an opportunity to build on the personalized care concept in a graphic sense.

MedExpress operates 119 clinics in nine states.

Fifty of those locations are in Pennsylvania, and Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia make up the company's core market.

The chain has added about 40 new clinics since summer 2012, with 15 more scheduled for ribbon-cuttings in the next few months, including a major push into New Jersey.

It's a powerhouse in the fledgling industry, trailing only Concentra Urgent Care (more than 300 clinics) and US HealthWorks (about 150 clinics) in terms of locations.

As the chain has evolved, the brand had to change too, Ms. Penn said. The new logo is joined by a new slogan -- "Great care. Fast" has been jettisoned for "Because Life Is Urgent" -- and a new interior and exterior color scheme.

About half of the locations have new signage, and the new brand will be deployed at the rest of the company's locations by 2014.

With about 10 locations in the Pittsburgh area and more in outlying counties, MedExpress is the region's leading urgent care provider.

UPMC Urgent Care, MedExpress' top local competition, has nine locations, four of which are in Allegheny County, three in outlying counties, and two more in the Erie area.

Concentra Urgent Care, a subsidiary of Humana Inc., has three locations locally. Several doctors' groups and suburban hospital networks also have set up their own urgent care clinics.

Urgent care clinics are walk-in, no-appointment centers that treat colds and minor injuries, and are typically open weekends and late into the evening, unlike most primary care practices.

They are generally staffed by a mix of doctors, nurses and physicians assistants, and are viewed as a pathway into the health care system and away from the emergency room, where treatment is far more expensive for both the patient and the insurance company.

One study by Health Affairs estimated that up to a quarter of all emergency department visits could be satisfactorily treated at an urgent care center or a smaller retail clinic, saving the U.S. health care system $4.4 billion annually.

Increasingly, the clinics also are viewed as great investment opportunities, with hundreds of new clinics opening each year, and possibly 10,000 now in operation in the U.S.

"There's a rapid, continued expansion [driven] often by private equity firms" and other unconventional investors, said Ateev Mehrotra, a health policy analyst at the Rand Corp. who has co-written about a dozen studies on retail medicine in recent years.

Formerly an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he's now at Harvard Medical School.

Thomson Reuters research suggests that private equity firms invested $4 billion in health and medical services in 2012, up from less than $1 billion in 2009, and "urgent care centers fueled much of that growth," according to American Medical News.

The corporate investors -- as well as health plans and hospital systems -- believe profits are to be had, especially if the Affordable Care Act injects millions of new Medicaid and privately insured patients to America's already crowded primary care practices.

Dr. Mehrotra said the trend will continue, if not accelerate. People -- particularly the under-40 crowd -- expect convenience in banking and shopping hours, and they are now expecting it in medical services.

Bill Toland: or 412-263-2625.

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