Health Clinics Opening in Retail Locations
Walk-in health clinics in retail locations "are springing up as an antidote to the expense and inconvenience of full-service doctors' offices or the high-cost and impersonal last resort of emergency rooms," the New York Times reports.
According to the Times, about 100 of these clinics -- which typically lease space from host stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and CVS -- are operating throughout the U.S. The increase in the clinics is "a reaction to the growing perception that conventional medical service for routine and preventive care has become too costly and inefficient," the Times reports.
Licensed nurse practitioners typically run the clinics and provide routine services for posted prices, such as $30 for a flu shot or $45 to treat an ear infection. Patients with serious conditions are referred to physicians for follow-up treatment or are sent to a hospital for urgent care. Prescriptions are filled by the retail chains' pharmacies.
Larry Fields, a Kentucky family doctor and president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that as long as the clinics "stick to this limited scope, they may have a small role in providing acute health care to people who are mildly ill, when their only other alternative at the time might be an emergency room."
The academy has issued a list of "desired attributes of retail health clinics," which include a well-defined limited scope of services, formal communication with local physicians and use of electronic health records that can be transmitted to doctors' offices, the Times reports.
Uwe Reinhardt, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, said "Primary care is a neglected field in the United States, lagging other economically advanced countries. The clinics can teach the rest of our health system how primary care could be done and brought to the public." Owners of the retail clinics -- who include former AOL Chair Stephen Case and Michael Howe, a former CEO of the Arby's restaurants group -- promote the concept of consumer-directed health care, the Times reports. Glen Nelson, a Minneapolis surgeon and chair of MinuteClinic -- which has branches in 73 stores -- said, "The clinic concept is a microcosm of what you could do to the whole system to improve it and make it more consumer friendly and economical" (Freudenheim, New York Times, 5/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.