Urgent care provider MedExpress, ultimately owned by Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group Inc., will open locations in Eden Prairie and Plymouth on Friday – its first-ever Minnesota locations. MedExpress brings a retail-like approach to its business: locations are open 7 days a week from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M. for walk-in patients.
 
When the new locations open later this week, MedExpress will have 179 locations in 15 states. MedExpress was founded in 2001 and remains based on the East Coast with administrative offices in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
 
Beyond basic care, MedExpress locations are equipped to handle X-rays, diagnostic tests such as an EKG, and employment-related screenings or tests.
 
“Our centers are staffed by a full medical team,” said Annie Jamieson, spokeswoman for MedExpress. The company avoids referring to its locations as “clinics,” but instead describes its outposts as “neighborhood medical centers.” 
 
UnitedHealth’s Optum division acquired MedExpress in April 2015. The companies did not disclose the price of the deal. MedExpress is expanding at a fast clip. When the Optum deal was announced, MedExpress had 141 locations. In less than 18 months, the urgent care provider has added another 38 locations.
 
MedExpress will also open locations in Mankato, Cloquet and Brooklyn Park yet this year or in early 2017, according to Jamieson. But the company’s web site outlines much bigger plans, listing a total of 19 locations across the state. The list of planned locations includes Minneapolis, Roseville, Arden Hills and other cities.
 
While not yet known in Minnesota, MedExpress is building a big footprint across the U.S.
 
“They’re probably the largest pure play urgent care operator in the country,” said Thomas Charland, CEO of Shoreview-based Merchant Medicine, a research and consulting firm that focuses on “walk-in” or “on-demand” health care. “They have a very simple, repeatable model that consumers really seem to like.”
 
Most local urgent care facilities are operated by traditional health care provider networks, noted Charland.
 
“Virtually all of the urgent care centers in the Twin Cities are very traditional, medical office building-like locations,” said Charland. But MedExpress is drawing people with convenient hours, walk-in care and the ability for patients to drive right up the door, instead of having to walk across a large hospital campus.
 
“The urgent care business continues to grow,” said Charland. He sees that being driven by two factors: a consumer desire for walk-in health care as opposed to scheduling an appointment and increasingly cost-conscious consumers who now have high-deductible health plans.
 
Coincidentally, this week brings another growing health care group to the Twin Cities. Smart Choice MRI, based in the Milwaukee area, opens its first clinic today in Richfield. The company will soon add locations in Woodbury, Eden Prairie and Roseville. Smart Choice clinics offer comprehensive MRIs for $600 or less.
 
Smart Choice started in 2007, but kicked into growth gear when Rick Anderson became chairman and CEO in March 2014.
 
“In the last two-and-a-half years we’ve gone from one clinic to 12,” Anderson told Twin Cities Business. Anderson said that the company is forecasting that it will have 35 locations in eight markets by the end of 2017.
 
Anderson knows the Twin Cities. He attended Bethel University and his wife is a native of White Bear Lake. In Anderson’s view, Minnesotans are “value-conscious” about their spending.
 
As with MedExpress, Smart Choice is seeing growth as customers who now have high-deductible health plans are looking for less expensive options. In that climate, Anderson said that the health care market is changing.
 
“Consumers still kind of don’t know that they can shop for health care,” said Anderson.

Like what you just read? To receive business news directly in your inbox each Tuesday and Thursday, sign up for our free e-newsletter, Briefcase, and be sure to join the conversation by commenting below.