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Sunday, 13 April 2014 20:04

West Michigan health systems test out walk-in retail clinics

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Retail medical clinics offer convenient care options for patients and could help ease increasing patient volumes for traditional health care providers, sources said. For example, 12 percent to 14 percent of all ER visits were for conditions that could have been treated at a retail medical clinic, according to the Convenient Care Association. Retail medical clinics offer convenient care options for patients and could help ease increasing patient volumes for traditional health care providers, sources said. For example, 12 percent to 14 percent of all ER visits were for conditions that could have been treated at a retail medical clinic, according to the Convenient Care Association. COURTESY PHOTO

Bronson Methodist Hospital’s opening of a new walk-in medical clinic at the Meijer Inc. store in Portage brings a growing health care trend to West Michigan, one that’s altering how patients access care.

If the Bronson FastCare clinic works out, Bronson Methodist Hospital may consider additional locations across its market, said John Jones Jr., senior vice president and chief operating officer for Bronson’s medical practices.

A retail medical clinic fits with providing “the right care, at the right place, at the right time,” Jones said.

“We keep focusing on the concept of the access to care, and so … as we perfect this, maybe we’ll do others. It’s a great way for folks to have a greater access to care,” he said. “These kinds of entry points into the health system make great sense and that’s what we need to make sure we continue to do — make sure that we are providing the entry points for a population.”

The Bronson FastCare clinic is open seven days a week and treats patients with minor conditions such as ear and sinus infections, sore throats, rashes and allergies.

Bronson staffs the retail clinic with physician assistants and nurse practitioners who work under the supervision of Southwest Michigan Emergency Services, an emergency medicine group that also staffs ERs at Bronson’s hospitals in Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Paw Paw.

The Meijer clinic serves as an alternative, lower-cost setting for care than a hospital emergency room or an urgent care center for people needing treatment for minor ailments, Jones said. The Convenient Care Association cites 2010 research data that 12 percent to 14 percent of all ER visits were for conditions that could have been treated at a retail medical clinic.

How many retail clinics Bronson may have in the future and how soon it may consider another location are unknowns right now, Jones said, adding that “we really like the concept.”

“As we look at our whole primary care system and access to care points of entry, this is one of them,” Jones said. “I think it will prove to be something that health systems across the country will start to look at.”

Across the U.S., the Philadelphia, Penn.-based Convenient Care Association counts 1,600 walk-in medical clinics based at retail stores that have pharmacies. They offer basic care and diagnostic tests for minor conditions, vaccines and even support for managing a chronic medical condition. Projections have the number growing rapidly over the next few years.

The largest operator of walk-in clinics is CVS Caremark Corp., which operates 800 MinuteClinic locations at CVS pharmacies in 28 states, including in Michigan where it has 14 of the retail clinics in suburban Detroit.

The Woosocket, R.I.-based CVS Caremark opened 74 MinuteClinics nationally in 2013 and plans to add at least 150 locations in 2014.

“[O]ur long-term goal is to create a national platform that supports primary care by providing integrated, high-quality care that is convenient, accessible and affordable,” CEO Larry Merlo told investors in a February conference call.

Walgreen Co. has 400 HealthCare Clinics in 20 states, none of which are in Michigan, although it has apparently been looking at the state.

Dr. Frank Belsito of Wyoming-based Metro Health said during a panel discussion at the recent Advantage Benefits Group seminar in Grand Rapids that the health system has talked with Walgreen about the concept. Metro Health is interested in a potential partnership for a retail clinic, Belsito said.

“We’re pursuing that opportunity. We’ll see how it can work out,” said Belsito, executive vice president at Metro Health who oversees the physician-hospital organization.

Metro Health in the mid-2000s operated two walk-in clinics at Meijer stores in the Grand Rapids area, but they did not work out, Belsito said.

“We were probably ahead of the curve a little bit,” he said. “We didn’t have all the pieces in place.”

That adoption curve for retail clinics nationally is now bending upward again. After taking off in the mid-2000s and then going through a few years of slower growth, retail medical clinics are expanding quickly again to become a larger part of the U.S. health care system.

The Convenient Care Association projects the number of retail medical clinics across the nation to nearly double to 3,000 by 2016.

In an annual report on health care cost trends, PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that consumer use of retail clinics tripled from 2008 to 2012. In 2007, less than 10 percent of consumers responding to a PwC survey said they had used a retail clinic. That had grown to 24 percent by 2012.

In a 2013 research report, Accenture projected the number of retail clinics to grow from more than 1,400 in 2012 to nearly 2,900 in 2015.

Helping to drive that growth is health care reform and the expansion of Medicaid eligibility to millions of people who now have greater access to care, as well as greater consumer acceptance and increased use of retail clinics, according to Accenture. Treatment capacity nationwide will grow to 10.8 million patient visits annually in 2015 from 5.1 million in 2011.

The Accenture report noted that retail clinics have transitioned from “foe to friend” of hospitals and health systems, which now see them as providing relief from congested ERs and handling a surge in patients from health care reform.

Until recently, hospitals and primary care doctors “widely regarded the clinics as a major threat to their business models and worked hard to undermine the new clinics’ public standing,” according to Accenture.

“Now, the very clinics once perceived as rivals may represent a key tool for managing patient volume while more conventional health providers focus on higher acuity and more complex treatments,” the Accenture report states. “Within the industry, a few are indeed realizing this, with several new approaches emerging for creating links between retail clinics and hospitals and (primary care physicians).”

While retail medical clinics have been criticized over concerns about quality and continuity of care, large operators like CVS and Walgreen Co. are partnering with local health systems for medical staff and oversight. CVS, for example, contracts with Henry Ford Health System for physician medical directors to supervisor nurse practitioners at MinuteClinics in the Detroit area, according to a December report by Crain’s Detroit Business.

Bronson’s Jones notes that the retail clinics need to stay focused on providing basic care for minor conditions. Anything else needs to be referred to another care setting, he said.

“This is for coming in for some of those basic things and getting them done quickly, efficiently and affordably, and it’s convenient,” Jones said.

Read 7366 times Last modified on Saturday, 12 April 2014 17:10

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