Retailing of Medical Care

Are patients without access to a primary care doctor, increasingly visiting walk-in retail medical clinics for care? This question formed part of a recent study conducted by the Rand Corporation.


Historically there has been an increase in “visits to retail clinics from 2007 to 2009, according to the study released in August 2012 by Rand Corporation” says Stephanie Stephens, California Healthline Regional Correspondent in an article. The study revealed that most of the patients sought care for limited to common acute ailments. The retail health market appears to have “tapped into patients’ needs,” says Stephanie quoting study authors. With passing of the Affordable Care Act there are clear indications that there would be more business for retail clinics. According to retail medical research and consulting firm Merchant Medicine, a retail clinic consultancy firm in Shoreview, Minn. 1,363 retail clinics operated in 39 states across the U.S. well equipped with adequate number of physicians and nurse practitioners, adds Stephanie.


Why Retail Health

Patients need community level care and clinicians need access to patient health records to manage their preventive care needs as best as they can. “It is a challenge as well as an opportunity for clinicians,” says Thomas Charland, CEO of Merchant Medicine.  Transparency is an attractive feature of retail clinics, according to some of the observers. Treatment at a Retail clinic costs less than what it is in a freestanding clinic. Normally it does not call for a prior appointment and the clinics are open on evenings and weekends. Charland himself is of the view that, retail will have a prominent place in healthcare as healthcare professionals look to form new alliances.


Retail medical clinics are growing rapidly and would attract new segments of users,” opines Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor at the University of Pittsburg, School of Medicine, and a researcher at RAND Corporation. In his view Promoting retail clinics would be one of the best alternatives if primary medical care drives longer wait times. Observers believe that the retail giants like Wal-mart intend to expand into medical care. Result would be entry of more retail clinics or freestanding facilities getting established although the latter option would be costly.

According to Dylan Roby, director of the Health Economics and Evaluation Research Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, retail clinics are “a potentially positive development for the health care system.” However they are not the final answer for problems in our health care system or replacement of primary care. “They do fill a gap but may be more of a ‘Band-Aid’ for the broader issues” says Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California.


A Growing Concept

There were critics who initially thought that retail clinics would go the way it had come. To quote Paul H. Keckley of Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, the skill and competence of retail clinics in consumer marketing and ability to sell through self care devices made a strong impact in healthcare management. Retail clinics are here to stay because the concept has already received acceptance. Its potential is profound and the impact would be felt more and more across all the states.

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