Retail Clinics a Rising Presence in Health Care Market

Published November 1, 2006

Stocking your shopping cart between flu shots and hepatitis vaccinations might not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

Across the country, consumers are finding more convenient ways to take preventative health measures while seeking to alleviate increasing health care costs and avoid the headaches of medical bureaucracy.

Among the avenues increasingly being used are retail-based health clinics–facilities offering immunizations and basic medical services from leased retail store space.

The number of retail-based clinics has grown from six in 2001 to a projected several hundred by the end of 2006, according to industry estimates.

“Consumers are looking for medical services delivered in ways that meet their needs, and that’s where the retail health care clinic industry comes in,” said Brian Jones, CEO of MedXpress, a retail clinic chain based in Texas.

But as the number of clinics increases nationwide, several leading medical associations have begun questioning the trend.

Consumer Convenience

The clinics sell convenience. Appointments aren’t necessary, and visits normally take only a few minutes.

Store-based health clinics are generally located in pharmacies, shopping malls, and retail stores, and are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the average store-based health clinic treats about 30 minor types of illness, performs screenings, and administers vaccines.

The array of services available at clinics continues to expand. For instance, MinuteClinic, which under the company name QuickMedx opened its first store-based health clinic in 2000, provides care for common ailments ranging from sinus infections to bronchitis, while offering consultations with health professionals and writing prescriptions when necessary.

According to the company Web site, visits normally take 15 minutes, do not require appointments or insurance, and cost $28 to $115 before reimbursement from health insurance providers.

“A substantial number of people opt for these clinic services because it is not terribly convenient to make an appointment days or weeks in advance and then have to make special arrangements to get to the appointment,” said James Stewart, an attorney with the national health care law firm Stewart Stimmel LLP.

Wal-Mart Executive Vice President Susan Chambers said about 40 percent of people who seek care at the retailer’s store-based clinics are uninsured. According to U.S. Census figures released in August, 46.6 million Americans lack health insurance at some point during the year.

Ripe Time for Growth

MinuteClinic, whose retail partnerships include Target and Cub Foods, estimates its clinics host 300,000 patient visits per year.

In July, CVS announced it had entered into an agreement to purchase MinuteClinic. Over the next three to five years, an additional 300 to 500 additional MinuteClinics will open, operating as wholly owned subsidiaries of CVS.

Jones’ MedXpress, which opened its first clinic this summer in the Dallas area, plans to open 500 clinics by 2010.

Wider Impact

Doctors are taking stock of the trend’s potential impact. Many are considering making changes to their practices in order to become more accessible to patients, and several have already extended office hours to accommodate patients without appointments.

In June, at the annual meeting of its House of Delegates, the AMA issued its first major report on store-based health clinics. Members testified that states should monitor store-based clinics more closely and argued they should not be a substitute for traditional doctor-patient care.

While clinics currently cater to adults over age 18, in September the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement opposing the possibility of retail-based clinics treating children and adolescents, arguing clinics do not support the group’s commitment to the “medical home” model that provides accessible, family-centered care.

Gregory Brown ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in New Rochelle, New York.

For more information … American Medical Association report on store-based health clinics,

American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on store-based health clinics,

“CVS Corporation to Acquire MinuteClinic, Largest Provider of Retail-Based Health Clinics in the U.S.,”