Retail clinics should join front lines of America's health care

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT Emergency room visits have been -- and continue to be -- on the rise, and if the recently passed healthcare reform is not coupled with an aggressive game plan to deliver healthcare services to the newly insured, the ER will continue to be the first place many seek care. One way to ease the pressure on overburdened ERs: Establish more retail-based clinics.

(THE NEWS: Op-ed: Retail clinics are the answer to ER overcrowding, costs. For the full story, click here)

That advice is not coming from an executive at a retail-based clinic operator or even an industry analyst; it’s from an ER doctor telling it like it is in a recently published op-ed in The Washington Post.

As the op-ed stated, there are four ways to steer some of the patients with only minor ailments from bottlenecked ERs. The first two:

  • First, establish more offices and clinics that are not based in hospitals (and do not carry hospital overhead). The recent trend toward low-cost, retail- and pharmacy-based clinics has been a relative success for what these facilities offer: quick evaluation and treatment for simple problems. They have been found to cost less than one-fifth of what an ER costs for the same complaint
  • Second, invest in allied professionals and paraprofessionals such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and medical technicians to deliver much of this basic care. Training more primary-care physicians will not be enough.

What's critical is that such views don't fall on deaf ears because the reality is that healthcare reform will provide coverage to about 32 million uninsured people.

The good news is that several industry players, like MinuteClinic, for example, are clearly reading the writing on the wall. MinuteClinic, which is owned by CVS Carmark, has indicated that it could double its current number of clinics in five years. MinuteClinic currently has 500 locations in 25 states, making it the largest such provider. MinuteClinic also is looking to increase the number of services offered, specifically those services for patients with chronic illnesses.

"Healthcare reform is a positive development for retail clinics because there are about 30 million people who are currently uninsured who will have healthcare coverage," stated Andrew Sussman, M.D., president of MinuteClinic and SVP/associate chief medical officer for CVS Caremark, in a statement recently sent to Drug Store News. "Add to that the aging of the population and the shortage of primary care practitioners and the opportunity for services such as those provided by MinuteClinic has the potential for growth."