Displaying an If you cant beat em, copy em, attitude, hospitals and health systems are getting into the retail clinic game.
While the clinics usually arent staffed by physicians and might be found across from the produce department or the laundry detergent aisle in the local grocery store, healthcare in retail settings is acquiring a new layer of legitimacy as more of these convenient-care clinics are being opened or operated by traditional providers. Initial questions about fair competition with physicians and whether hospitals operating retail clinics are poaching from their own referral base appear to be disappearing as everyone gets into the act.
This is all about market share, says Tim Ward, a partner with management consulting firm Tefen USA, who compared todays retail clinics with the early ambulatory surgical centers, which hospitals first opposed before eventually purchasing themselves.
The Convenient Care Association, a trade group formed in October 2006 that represents retail clinic providers and affiliated companies, says it expects that there will be more than 700 retail clinics by the end of the year, and twice that number by next December as new business models emerge. These include: healthcare systems such as the Mayo Clinic opening their own facilities; systems like Memorial Hermann in Houston partnering with convenient-care companies like RediClinic; and facilities such as Californias QuickHealth or Floridas Solantic walk-in clinics, which are touting their competitive advantage of having on-site physicians supervising the nurse practitioners on staff.
Thats certainly one of the trends that were seeing around the country, says Tine Hansen-Turton, the associations executive director, commenting on the rise of hospital-retail clinic alliances. She describes these arrangements as a win-win for hospitals, which get to grow their primary-care practices through retail clinic referrals while easing the burden on their emergency departmentswhere many of these patients say they would have sought care if they didnt have the retail clinic option. She says that five of the largest organizations that belong to her group are healthcare systems: AtlantiCare, Egg Harbor Township, N.J.; Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee; Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.; Memorial Hospital & Health System, South Bend, Ind.; and Sutter Health, Sacramento, Calif.
Still some pockets of resistance remain. Steve DeToy, director of government and public affairs for the Rhode Island Medical Society, says his state appears to be retail-clinic free.
Theyre skimming easy cases off the top and thats going to affect primary-care offices financially and will interfere with the physician-patient relationship, DeToy says, who added that his organizations members are not necessarily anti-retail clinic. I dont know if opposed is the right word, he adds. They have a great spiel about We help people find medical homes, but its more of a trust me than it is a demonstrated factat least as far as our physicians are concerned.
The rapid growth of convenient carewhich usually involves physician-supervised nurse practitioners treating simple cases and referring serious problems to doctorscoupled with recognized access-to-care problems have led many systems to take a closer look at the retail clinic business model. American Hospital Association spokesman Richard Wade says the basic message about retail clinics that his organization sends to its member is if the circumstances are right, it might be a good strategy to consider.