Pharmacies, Retailers Begin Offering In-Store Health Care Clinics
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined the opening of in-store health clinics in major pharmacy and retail chains. The clinics, where a visit can cost between $25 and $60, require no appointments and remain open during pharmacy hours. They offer fast access to regular medical care -- including strep-throat tests, sports physicals and flu shots -- and are generally staffed by nurse practitioners who in some states can write prescriptions to patients for situations that do not require continuing care. Clinic operators say the service is "an entryway to the primary care system" in part because it facilitates physician referrals.
In addition, some clinics operated by Pennsylvania-based start-up Take Care Health Systems direct patients to use touch-screen computer terminals to check in and describe their symptoms and family history. The computers can create a diagnosis and suggested course of treatment for the attending care provider and will create an electronic medical record for the patient. According to the Journal, the trend is "rapidly spreading in pharmacy chains as they look for ways to stem losses to mail-order pharmacies and big-box stores." Brooks Eckerd Pharmacy, Osco Drug, Rite Aid and Walgreen plan to partner with Take Care to open clinics within the next few months. CVS and Target are developing plans with Minnesota-based MinuteClinic, while Wal-Mart is making plans with InterFit Health. Although retailers do not profit directly from the clinics, the companies hope that locating the clinics on-site will increase business if patients fill their prescription and shop while they wait.
Some doctor groups, which could lose business to the in-store clinics, are critical of the concept, saying that the clinics provide lower-quality care. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said, "Serious illnesses sometimes present with simple symptoms. A cough might be something as simple as a cold or something as serious as congestive heart failure. The ability to ferret out the 20% of serious illnesses that present with simple symptoms is what we went to medical school for."
However, some patients say they like the convenience in-store clinics offer. In addition, some health insurers are encouraging members to use the clinics because treatment there costs less than a traditional physician visit (Spencer, Wall Street Journal, 10/5).