Retail Clinics Offer New Competition
– Retail clinics—housed in pharmacy chains, such as Walgreen’s, CVS, and Rite-Aid—have shown a great deal of growth but have also encountered pushback from the medical community. From 2007 to 2009, visits to retail clinics grew by 400%, according to a report in Health Affairs.
Staffed mostly by nurse practitioners who closely follow clinical protocols, these clinics basically treat five symptoms or conditions: sore throats, ear infections, sinus infections, bladder infections in women, and conjunctivitis. Retail clinics are open when physicians’ practices are usually closed. According to the Health Affairs study, almost one half of patients come in off-hours. And retail clinics are less expensive: The price of a visit is about $75, compared with $150 at many urgent care clinics, according to Thomas Charland, CEO of Merchant Medicine, a Minnesota-based consultant on walk-in healthcare. Almost all retail clinics, he added, accept health insurance.
Although some physicians’ offices offer same-day appointments, Charland said that retail clinics are a step ahead, offering immediate care for walk-ins. Some physicians view the clinics as a threat and tell their patients not to use retail clinics, he said. According to a RAND Corporation analysis, some doctors are concerned that retail clinics are skimming patients who are less costly to treat, but other doctors are relieved not to have to treat such simple cases. Meanwhile, the AAFP is concerned that the clinics could fragment healthcare delivery, because patients might not report their visits to their PCP.
Rather than fight retail clinics, Charland advises doctors to forge reciprocal referral relationships with them. The website for CVS’ MinuteClinic lists its affiliations with regional health networks, including the Cleveland Clinic. Charland added that some doctors’ offices are trying to mimic retail clinics by allowing walk-ins. A walk-in with a sore throat is sent directly to a nurse, he said.