More Head To Retail Clinics for Chronic Woes, Prevention

A new report from Walgreens shows that consumers are increasingly relying on retail clinics for help managing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, as well as preventative care. The study also reports that loyalty to these healthcare hybrids is growing, with more than half of patients who use them returning in the future.

Typically staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, the clinics are still primarily a place people go for acute care, and are often open extended hours. They are favorites with parents when kids get an after-hours earache or need a sports check-up. But the study reports that 17% of visits to the clinics in 2013 were for preventive services, screening or chronic-illness visits, up from 4% in 2007. And once consumers use these services, they are liking them better: The report says more than 50% made return visits in 2013 and 2012, compared with 15% in 2007.



While the number clinics is growing, and there are now about 1,600 in the U.S., reports the Harvard Business Review, with 20 million patient visits per year, “their performance has been disappointing: Their growth has been less than expected, they have not expanded care to underserved markets (namely, the poor), and their impact on health care spending — helping to lower it — remains unclear,” write Jason Hwang and Ateev Mehrotra on HBR’s blog. “Retail clinics exemplify both the potential of and challenges for disruptive innovators to improve value in health care.”

In addition to Walgreens, the market includes Walmart, CVS’ MinuteClinics, RiteAid and Target. One challenges to profitability has been evening out sales over the year. (Most kids’ illnesses occur in the winter months, for example, while demands for check-ups and vaccines soar when school starts.) 

Expanding efforts to embrace chronic conditions not only spreads demands over the calendar year, it’s an enormous market: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about half of all U.S. adults, or 117 million, suffer from at least one chronic illness; one in four has two or more such diseases. (The list includes arthritis, asthma, heart disease, depression, hypertension, and diabetes.) And for drug stores, it’s an essential market: Some 91% of prescriptions filled each year are for chronic health problems.

Walgreens says it also found that visits for health testing increased by 90% for people ages 18 to 64, while overall preventive health visits gained 66% in that time period. And patients over 65 are using the clinics more, with acute visits jumping 84%.

“Access to care in the community, and the growing need to support patients with chronic diseases are two of the biggest challenges facing our health care system,” writes Harry Leider, Walgreens chief medical officer, in the release. “This further demonstrates that retail clinics can be instrumental in providing that care, driving patient engagement, and working in coordination with physicians and other primary care providers to foster continuity of care to support more patients.”

Separately, CVS Caremark recently announced new clinical affiliations with four large regional health care providers, which it says will improve care, offering “clinical support, medication counseling, chronic disease monitoring and wellness programs at CVS/pharmacy stores and MinuteClinic.” CVS currently operates some 800 MinuteClinics in the U.S., and more than 7,600 pharmacies.

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