Are Retail Clinics Competitors or Potential Partners?

Rene Letourneau, for HealthLeaders Media , April 8, 2013

Bourgault says the retail clinics could also potentially ease the burden for primary care physicians who are struggling to keep pace with a growing patient load.

"In most health systems, primary care is usually stretched pretty thin, and the wave of the future is most people will only see their PCP once every three years. … For health systems that decide to get into this business and partner with a clinic to develop a relationship, it could be a win-win for both, and it could definitely be a win for consumers."

There is little doubt that consumers are increasingly warming up to the idea of receiving care in a retail clinic. The popularity of these clinics has grown substantially in recent years, according to a survey from healthcare market researcher Kalorama Information, which reports that 21.3% of U.S. adults had used a retail clinic as of 2012. That's a big jump from six years prior, when only 10% had visited a clinic. The survey cites convenient hours and lower costs as two major factors driving the growth.

Not surprisingly, some physician groups, such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, warn against consumers using retail clinics for chronic disease management.

"This piecemeal approach to healthcare concerns me—that it will ultimately fragment care and frustrate patients, resulting in higher costs and lower quality. My hope is that my patients and our country get the best care, and we know the best care comes from continuous care over time," says AAFP president Jeffrey Cain, MD, a family doctor based in Denver.

Cain also says the retail clinic model can lead to "missed opportunities to provide coordinated care."

"We are concerned the clinics will further fragment an already fragmented healthcare system and create potentially higher costs. … Walgreens isn't going to allow for continuous service where a patient develops a relationship with a physician over time," he says.

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