Physician practices are no longer competing with retail clinics staffed by nurse practitioners; they're now up against computer screens too. That's because Rite Aid, a pharmacy chain that's been slower to expand its retail clinic business than competitors such as CVS, now is offering patients the benefits (and drawbacks) of retail medicine and telemedicine combined.
As a result of the partnership between Rite Aid and OptumHealth, patients can consult with a doctor or nurse electronically from their home or a private kiosk room within the pharmacy. While the online NowClinic is currently available to patients in 22 states, the in-store e-visits are so far limited to a Detroit-area pilot.
Similar to "traditional" retail clinics, NowClinic offers treatment for allergies, bladder infections, bronchitis, pink eye, sore throat and other minor illnesses. While an online consultation with a nurse is free, patients have the option to upgrade to a 10-minute e-visit with a physician for $45 by entering their credit card information. Patients also can buy extra exam time for $5 to $10 for each additional five minutes. If patients want to seek insurance reimbursement for the services, they have to submit claims themselves.
While this trend signals that office-based physicians will continue to face mounting pressure to offer convenience, speed and price transparency, involvement in this and similar programs also can represent a side income for physicians. According to American Medical News, physicians who contract with OptumHealth to treat patients through NowClinic keep the majority of the fees collected. To participate, they simply download software to the computer where they plan to work and make themselves available according to their own schedules.