US retail chains offering rudimentary healthcare are now teaming with established hospitals. The so-called walk-in clinics are going bust in several parts of the country, and the new tie-ups could help retrieve the situation, it is hoped.
In March last CVS Caremark closed about 90 of some 550 MinuteClinic locations until the next flu season or other "seasonal" needs demand their services 90 of its MinuteClinics earlier this year. Almost all of the clinics that were closed are located within 10 miles of another MinuteClinic, and half are within five miles, a CVS spokeswoman had said.
Also many of the clinics in Wal-Mart stores shut down when the companies that ran the clinics went out of business.
A company called CheckUps closed nearly two dozen clinics in Wal-Mart stores last month, apparently without giving Wal-Mart much notice.
Retail clinics are typically staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants, care for simple ailments like sore throats and charge set fees that hover around $50. Wal-Mart says 55% of those treated at its clinics are uninsured.
Only a tiny fraction of American families in 2007 had ever used the in-store clinics, typically located in pharmacies, supermarkets and big-box retailers, according to a national study released in December last year by the Commonwealth Fund and conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).
As of 2007, 2.3 percent of American families, or nearly 3.4 million families, had ever used a retail clinic, according to findings from HSC's 2007 Health Tracking Household Survey, a nationally representative survey with information on about 18,000 people in 9,400 families. The survey had a 43 percent response rate.
Of the families reporting they had ever used a retail clinic, about half reported visiting a retail clinic in the prior 12 months before the survey interview, while the other half reported they had visited a retail clinic during an earlier period.
The study found that families that reported not getting or delaying needed medical care at some point in the previous 12 months were almost 2.5 times as likely to have used a retail clinic as families without such access problems (1.9% vs. 0.8%). Also, younger families-those with a family respondent aged 18-34-were more than twice as likely as older families-those with a family respondent aged 50-64-to have used a retail clinic.
''While overall use of retail clinics remains modest, families with unmet medical needs tend to use the clinics more than the rest of the population,'' said Ha T. Tu, M.P.A., an HSC senior researcher and coauthor of the study with Genna R. Cohen, an HSC health research assistant.
''These findings suggest that retail health clinics have the potential to play a role in improving health care delivery, especially primary care,'' said Commonwealth Fund Vice President Anne-Marie Audet, M.D.
The retail clinics have also evoked some criticism from the medical community itself. They are complaining the clinics could lead to fragmentation of healthcare.
So then the retail chains are now seeking to fine-tune their strategies.
CVS MinuteClinic units are now to have a direct link to Allina Hospitals & Clinics, a not-for-profit network of hospitals, clinics and other health care services, providing care throughout Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Under the agreement, Allina and MinuteClinic will collaborate on aligning their clinical care operations, including medical oversight and informing patients of each parties' services. In addition, as part of the collaboration, Allina and MinuteClinic will develop interfaces between their electronic medical records (EMR) systems to streamline communication around all aspects of a patient's care. Allina and MinuteClinic will also explore the development of new services in the market.
In April 2008, the first clinics co-branded with local hospitals opened under the "The Clinic at Walmart" logo in several Atlanta-area supercenters. "We are committed to expanding this program
so that many more customers can access this high-quality health care innovation. As part of our commitment to be a "Store of the Community", these clinics are connected to their communities via a local hospital system that Walmart customers already know and respect. We believe these clinics will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our country's healthcare system," Walmart said and is planning to open 400 such centers by next year.
The partnerships may also attract more upscale locals to use the clinics. "Especially among middle- and upper-income shoppers, it becomes more like stopping in at any location of their group health care provider," Retail analyst Patricia Edwards of Wentworth Hauser and Violich told the AP. "It doesn't have that connotation of going cheap."