Will private-label medical care catch on?

Articles
June 23, 2009

It’s one thing to save money by buying a store-brand of cheese, chips or cola, or even a cough remedy. It’s quite another to opt for store-front medical care, usually rendered by nurse practitioners who can write prescriptions or physician assistants. Even though 47 million Americans remain uninsured—and the concept of convenient care inside a drug store, supermarket or discounter seems quicker and cheaper than a run to an emergency room or a doctor—consumers have been slow to embrace the idea, even for relatively uncomplicated maladies. The most common treatments at the nation’s estimated 1,100 convenient care clinics are for sore throat, common colds/cold symptoms, flu symptoms, cough, sinus infection, allergies, immunizations and blood pressure testing, according to the 2008 Market Strategies International report. However, the operator MinuteClinic (owned by CVS) recently added sprains, acne, wound care, motion sickness, and testing for tuberculosis to its repertoire, reported the Los Angeles Times, and the Minute Clinics inside CVS stores in Columbus, Ohio, have a pilot underway to give nebulizer breathing treatments to asthma patients. Raising the ante further, clinics at Walgreens are injecting patients to treat asthma and osteoporosis in a Tampa and Orlando pilot program, the paper added. Physicians have expressed concern that what seems routine may actually be serious and require more extensive tests and treatments—particularly for patients who suffer from other chronic conditions, and would benefit from a doctor who knows a patient’s history. Yet it looks as if Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and Target are increasingly willing to put their names behind expanded efforts. Why? Let’s see:

It’s one thing to save money by buying a store-brand of cheese, chips or cola, or even a cough remedy.  It’s quite another to opt for store-front medical care, usually rendered by
nurse practitioners who can write prescriptions or physician assistants.

Even though 47 million Americans remain uninsured—and the concept of convenient care inside a drug store, supermarket or discounter seems quicker and cheaper than a run to an emergency room or a doctor—consumers have been slow to embrace the idea, even for relatively uncomplicated maladies. 

The most common treatments at the nation’s estimated 1,100 convenient care clinics are for sore throat, common colds/cold symptoms, flu symptoms, cough, sinus infection, allergies, immunizations and blood pressure testing, according to the 2008 Market Strategies International report.  However, the operator MinuteClinic (owned by CVS) recently added sprains, acne, wound care, motion sickness, and testing for tuberculosis to its repertoire, reported the Los Angeles Times, and the Minute Clinics inside CVS stores in Columbus, Ohio, have a pilot underway to give nebulizer breathing treatments to asthma patients. Raising the ante further, clinics at Walgreens are injecting patients to treat asthma and osteoporosis in a Tampa and Orlando pilot program, the paper added.

Physicians have expressed concern that what seems routine may actually be serious and require more extensive tests and treatments—particularly for patients who suffer from other chronic conditions, and would benefit from a doctor who knows a patient’s history. Yet it looks as if Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger and Target are increasingly willing to put their names behind expanded efforts. Why? Let’s see:

•    Access to primary-care physicians is decreasing, and clinics provide people with an opportunity to get care early.
•    The convenience of weekend and evening hours appeals to those who have insurance coverage, and the lower cost appeals to cash payers—$50 to $75 for a clinic visit vs. $55 to $250 to see a doctor, said the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.
•    The in-store clinics deliver customer traffic and the potential for incremental sales, especially leading up to flu season.

Hospitals want in on this growing revenue stream, and are increasingly establishing clinics inside of retail stores. According to a New York Times account: the Cleveland Clinics has lent its name to CVS clinics in northeastern Ohio; the Mayo Clinic operates  Express Care clinics inside a supermarket and a mall in Rochester, MN; and Walmart, which already has 26 hospital-connected clinics, plans to add dozens more soon. In all, about 1 in-store clinic in 10 across the United States is linked to a hospital, reported the e-newsletter Merchant Medicine News.

If the health-care system wasn’t fractured, we believe more physicians would be attracted to primary care practices, and the market wouldn’t require these clinics. Whether they continue to grow or not will hinge largely on: first, a lack of negative incidents, which prove their capability and professionalism, and reinforce the brand value of the retailers housing them; and second, health care reform not going so far as to eliminate the market need for widely available, lower-cost care sites.