American Family Care: Where Values and Marketing are One and the Same

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Photo credit:  Eric Gray Photography

At a recent marketing event in Birmingham, Alabama, Chief Marketing Officer Bill Koleszar told the story of how American Family Care (AFC) was born and has grown into one of the most widely known and admired brands in healthcare.  

CEO and Founder,  Dr. Bruce Irwin Jr., spent much of his childhood watching physicians and nurses tend to his father, who lost both legs in a locomotive accident. By the age of four, that experience had instilled the dream of one day becoming a doctor.

So after attending the University of Alabama School of Medicine and achieving that dream, Dr. Irwin was working as an emergency room physician and realized non-emergencies were clogging up the waiting rooms. Despite his lack of experience in business, he sketched a plan for a network of urgent care clinics on a notepad.

From the beginning Dr. Irwin has held to the philosophy of “putting the patient first”.  This is supported by AFC clinics delivering care at a cost that is less than half the cost of an ER, with dramatically lower wait times than traditional emergency rooms.  

Thirty five years later, with more than 200 clinics in over 26 states, caring for almost 3 million patients a year, American Family Care is a leading provider of urgent care and family care.   They are also recognized as one of the most successful urgent care brands in the US, with almost two-thirds of their clinics being franchised-owned.

So how does the fast growing company create consistency for their brand and marketing message with so many different business partners and owners?

It’s a number one focus for Koleszar, who believes that their ability to build their values into everything they do is their number one branding tool.  

A friend and colleague once told Koleszar, “you don’t need to be comparing yourself to other urgent care facilities – you need to be comparing yourself to companies like the Ritz-Carlton and Disney if you really want your brand to be unique and stay on-point.”  This is advice that Koleszar clearly takes to heart.

Now, you don’t get to the success level AFC has enjoyed without systematically measuring the patient experience at every turn.  Every detail is intentionally designed to provide the best healthcare possible, in a kind and caring environment, while respecting the rights of all patients, in an economical manner, at times and locations convenient to the patient.

The average patient visit lasts about an hour from registration to discharge and offers on-site access to digital x-rays, lab testing, state-of-the-art diagnostics, electronic medical records, and well-trained teams of healthcare professionals.

They also measure many key data points that drive a positive patient experience including how long are patient wait times and treatment times And they have this data gathering down to such a fine science that they know how long that patient engagement, at every stage, should to be from start to finish.  

By measuring these details and communicating them in a transparent way to their clinics, AFC is able to keep all of their locations connected and informed on how they are performing vs. the key benchmarks required for a positive, “patient first” experience.

Koleszar also has helped develop a culture of rewarding good behavior that is in line with their value statements of having a patient-centric care model.  “I absolutely love to see people on our team doing things right,” he remarks. They reward their top performers, and encourage their staff to not go the extra mile – but rather to go the extra 10 miles.  

In a world where 60% of all adults don’t have a primary care physician, American Family Care fills a void with repeatable positive patient experiences.  And consistently treating people well is the best possible branding message I can think of!

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