PHARMACY

Quality of care delivered at retail clinics

BY Richard Monks

More than a decade after they began to appear in community pharmacies across the country, retail clinics have become a key provider of health care to millions of Americans. Both the number of clinics and the types of services provided are expanding, and even regional and supermarket chains are joining the trend of becoming a one-stop healthcare destination.

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The market research firm Accenture estimates that by the end of 2016 there will be 2,150 clinics in the United States, and that number will exceed 2,800 in just two years.

Forecasters said the key to retail clinics’ growth and their increased role in the country’s healthcare system will be their continual forging of relationships with other providers and ensuring that they have the technology to work closely with these other healthcare groups. Such partnerships, they noted, will allow more pharmacy operators to add clinics — as evidenced by the recent proliferation of clinics in a wider range of supermarkets and regional chains — and will help walk-in healthcare facilities take their business in a new direction. CVS Minute-Clinic and Walgreens’ Healthcare Clinic, for instance, have said they are exploring moving beyond just offering urgent care to providing more coordinated care for chronic conditions. Meanwhile, others are growing their network of clinics through a combination of corporate-owned facilities and in-store clinics operated by outside companies.

“Some delivery systems seeking to improve primary care access and manage total cost of care are using retail clinics to reduce unnecessary emergency department visits,” according to a report released last year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, noting the growing number of alliances being formed between clinics and health systems.

“The cost of providing care for commercially insured patients has been found to be significantly lower when care was initiated at retail clinics than when it was initiated in physician offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments,” the report stated.

In fact, according to the report, slightly more than a quarter of emergency room visits could be handled at retail clinics or urgent care centers, leading to a $4.4 billion reduction in healthcare spending.

In addition, the study found that the cost of treating five common conditions — pharyngitis, otitis media, acute sinusitis, conjunctivitis and urinary tract infections — were about a fifth of what they were if patients used other providers.

Healthcare researchers and clinic proponents stress that the benefits of retail clinics are more than just a matter of dollars and cents. Payers and providers, they said, are aligning with retail clinics because they see the quality of care delivered at these locations to be as good or better than most other practice settings.

For instance, the Convenient Care Association, the trade group representing retail clinics, said that a recent analysis of clinics found that they had almost 93% compliance with quality measures for appropriate testing of children with pharyngitis versus the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set average of less than 75%.

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