NBGH supports employer use of convenient care clinics

WASHINGTON The National Business Group on Health formally supported employer use of convenient care clinics for selected medical problems, according to published reports.

“Patients, employers and health plans can clearly benefit from the targeted focus, ease of access, convenience and greater affordability of these facilities,” Helen Darling, president of NBGH, said Thursday.

Care clinics, which pride themselves on being economically convenient, are walk-in health centers most often located in supermarkets, pharmacies and large retail stores. By remaining open on evenings and weekends, and staffed by nurse practitioners, the hassle of going to the family doctor for minor illnesses is reduced.

Currently, more than 700 retail health clinics are in operation, said Tom Charland, chief executive officer of Merchant Medicine, a research and consulting firm in Roseville, Minn., that tracks the convenient care industry. Several employers have encouraged their employees to use retail health clinics in hopes of saving time and money, and more healthcare plans are covering such visits.

Although retail clinics have gained steam in the medical world, some skeptics have demanded they be reviewed.

In lieu of the concerns surrounding convenience care clinics, the NBGH physicians advisory group reviewed research reports and publications and concluded the clinics should be supported and employers should encourage their staff to use them.

The NBGH’s board of directors, including its five physician members, ultimately concluded, “retail clinics, in fact, meet an important unfulfilled need for services that are easily accessible, open to everyone, lower in cost than emergency rooms and available during hours that many physicians’ offices are closed,” Darling said in Thursday’s statement.

While the nonprofit Washington-based association said, as in regular physicians’ offices, standards are needed, the organization declared its support of employers enlisting the services of convenience care clinics. “We don’t see any reason to exclude retail medical clinics from employer-provided health benefits coverage as long as standards are in place and there is appropriate physician back-up and supervision,” Darling said.

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