Are Retail Clinics Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Last week, CVS Caremark announced that it was pulling cigarettes and other tobacco products from its stores because it wanted to focus on becoming more of a health care provider, with CEO Larry J. Merlo stating, “We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.”  And, while the retailer will lose about $2 billion per year as a result of the move, it stands to gain much more.  Merlo said the decision to stop selling tobacco products “was really more of a discussion about how to position the company for future growth.”

CVS has the largest chain of pharmacy-based health clinics in the United States, offering care for common illnesses, like strep throat and pink eye (Bob Costas could benefit from a visit).  By 2017, it anticipates growing clinic locations to 1,500.  Retail health care is becoming big business with approximately 20 million patient visits to date and Accenture indicates that the industry could see 25% to 30% growth in the next few years. What about CVS’ move positions the retailer to take advantage of the opportunity?

For consumers, what’s not to like?  Retail healthcare is:

Interestingly, while retail is going health care, health care is also going retail.  In August 2011, the Mayo Clinic conducted an 18 month Mayoexperiment and opened the “Create Your Mayo Clinic Health Experience” store at the Mall of America.  The store sold Mayo Clinic cookbooks, offered wellness programs, and provided telemedicine services. Customers used 3-D computer monitors, kiosks, and “navigator specialists” to assess their health and develop wellness programs.  The store emerged because of Mayo’s belief health care won’t be confined to hospitals and doctor’s offices in the future. The goal was to make things more convenient and provide access to Mayo’s leading health resources on a day-to-day basis.

While retail clinics like CVS certainly have their limitations, they have the opportunity to fill a real void and provide some disruptive innovation to traditional primary care.  Critics attest that retail clinics are not supportive of the concept of a medical home and that patients may still have to go elsewhere if they have a condition that is beyond the scope of what they can handle.  However, electronic medical records and partnerships with major health systems help to hurdle some of those challenges.

With the expected influx of newly-insured patients, it’s important to evaluate all the options to expanding access.  A tobacco-free CVS might be just the right prescription for its patients and hospital partners.

 

 

 

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