Visits up, reform on deck, clinics ramp up

NEW YORK —Healthcare reform, a rise in patient visits and expanded service offerings are paving the way for growth in the convenient care clinic sector. And judging by the numbers, the industry once again is heating up.

Since emerging in 2000, the number of convenient care clinics has grown to about 1,200. The bulk of that growth occurred during 2007 and 2008. More recently, much of the growth has taken place within the model and the services offered. To date, convenient care clinics have treated more than 15 million patients, with visits ramping up significantly.

Now with about 30 million uninsured gaining healthcare coverage under healthcare reform, and cash-strapped patients making fewer physician visits, it is clear that growth in the number of clinics is on the horizon.

“Add to that [healthcare reform], 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,” said Andrew Sussman, president of MinuteClinic and SVP and associate chief medical officer for CVS Caremark earlier this year. In fact, as previously reported by Drug Store News, Sussman noted that MinuteClinic could double its current number of clinics in five years. MinuteClinic currently has about 500 locations, making it the largest such provider.

Furthermore, MinuteClinic visits rose 36% during the second quarter ended June 30, Tom Ryan, chairman and CEO of CVS Caremark, told analysts during a July 28 conference call. That is significant growth, especially since last year included the impact of H1N1.

Ken Berndt, director of FastCare, believed that much of the growth going forward will stem from hospital systems jumping aboard the clinic bandwagon. “Hospital systems are continuing to look to expand the medical home, and retail clinics are a large contribution to expanding the medical home for the primary care groups in health systems,” Berndt said. “I think you are going to see health systems do the bulk of the growth.”

Bellin Health Systems established the FastCare brand of retail health clinics in 2006 and currently has 38 clinics either built or under construction. Over the next 12 months, it plans to add between 40 and 50 clinics.

Take Care Health Systems, owned by Walgreens, hasn’t discussed specific growth plans, but company spokesman Gabe Weissman told Drug Store News, “We’ll expand locations, services and offerings to meet the needs of patients and enhance access to high-quality, affordable and convenient health care. Patients are asking for more services at Take Care Clinics, and the marketplace is calling for additional access points for high-quality convenient care. Take Care Clinics are responding by carefully evaluating and implementing treatments that can be offered with clinical excellence.”

Take Care currently operates in-store health clinics at more than 350 Walgreens across the country.