Year 2012 proving to be significant year for convenient care industry

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — At the start of the year, Drug Store News predicted that 2012 would be a significant year for the convenient care industry as retail-based health clinics gear up for expansion and move closer to version 2.0. Well, that prediction is ringing true.

(THE NEWS: Mass. lawmakers pass healthcare bill that expands use of limited-service clinics. For the full story, click here)

With the growth of consumer-driven care and more of the burden for managing costs falling on patients’ shoulders, the retail clinic visits continue to rise, clinic operators continue to open locations and services continue to expand beyond treating acute ailments and further integrate with medication therapy management. And the movement shows little signs of slowing.

Just last week the Los Angeles Times published an article stating that retail-based health clinics are likely to see an influx of patients turning to them for healthcare services as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will extend health insurance to some 30 million Americans amid an already fragile primary care network.

The article stated that this will be especially true in California, as nearly 3-out-of-4 California counties already lack a sufficient number of family physicians.

California state senator Ed Hernandez, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said that California must take numerous steps to address this issue and that the state is considering legislation that would expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners so they can treat more patients directly with limited physician oversight, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Days later, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a massive healthcare bill that brings expanded scope of services, in such areas as monitoring of chronic diseases and prevention and wellness offerings, to patients of limited-service clinics — marking not only a significant milestone for the state’s healthcare system but also for the convenient care industry at large.

The new definition of limited services includes diagnosis treatment, management and monitoring of acute and chronic disease, and wellness and preventive services, all within the scope and practice of nurse practitioners.

In response to the legislation in Massachusetts, Andrew Sussman, president of MinuteClinic and SVP/associate chief medical officer of CVS Caremark, said in a statement sent to Drug Store News, that “… these services are well within the scope of practice of our nurse practitioners and have been welcomed by our patients in the additional 24 states where we have MinuteClinic operations."

Speaking of MinuteClinic, the clinic operator last week announced a nationwide partnership with the American Heart Association. Through this collaboration in hypertension management, MinuteClinic nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be trained in the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association guidelines on the treatment and management of high blood pressure and will refer patients who are identified to have high blood pressure to their primary care physician and to educational resources to help them understand how they can manage their condition.

These latest developments bring to mind an article written by a physician and published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article, written by Christine K. Cassel, M.D., with the American Board of Internal Medicine in Philadelphia, stated that retail-based health clinics provide a solution as they can provide patients with timely, convenient and cost-effective access to care.

Cassel also pointed to a third significant challenge facing the U.S. healthcare system today: Coordination of care, especially for those patients with multiple chronic conditions. “Lack of coordination is thought to cost the healthcare system billions of dollars. To date, this has not been a major area of expertise or availability of retail clinics but, as they consider a role in chronic care, it is coming into focus. Indeed, chronic care plans are an increasingly important priority for retail health clinics,” the article stated.

Clearly, 2012 is shaping up to be a significant year for the convenient care industry.

With these developments in mind, what are your thoughts on how the future clinic model will look?