Retail Health Clinic Industry Expands Despite Concerns
Retail clinics -- low-cost, walk-in facilities often located in supermarkets, pharmacies and large retail stores that in large part are staffed by nurse practitioners -- are "fast becoming a serious industry" in the U.S., the AP/Tennessean reports.
According to the Convenient Care Association, which represents retail clinics, 7% of U.S. residents visited such facilities at least once, with the rate expected to increase as the number of facilities expands.
CCA estimates that the number of retail clinics will increase from 400 to more than 700 by the end of the year and to about 2,000 by the end of 2008. In addition, about 40% to 50% of clinics accept health insurance from Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealth Group and other large companies, according to CCA.
However, "concerns about quality of care are rising among physicians, and some industry experts say the clinics' services need to be more broad if they are going to have a big impact on reducing overall health care costs," the AP/Tennessean reports (D'Innocenzio, AP/Tennessean, 8/12).
The American Medical Association in June adopted a resolution to ask state and federal agencies to launch investigations into whether retail clinics place the health of patients at risk and whether the facilities encourage patients to fill their prescription on site. In addition, AMA will seek a ban on a practice in which health insurers offer to waive or reduce copayments for members who seek care at retail clinics (California Healthline, 6/26).
A number of states have passed legislation to clarify the role of nurse practitioners at retail clinics. In response to concerns about the quality of care provided at retail clinics, Tine Hansen-Turten, executive director of CCA, said that such facilities are monitored by state nursing or medical boards or both.
Michael Howe, president and CEO of MinuteClinic, added, "I wouldn't call it express care. I would call it efficient care."
AMA has denied that "criticism of these clinics is being driven by economic interests," but "there's no doubt that primary physicians could lose some business as their insured patients go elsewhere for minor ailments," according to the AP/Tennessean (AP/Tennessean, 8/12).