Retail health: Advocate Health Care takes over Walgreen clinics in Chicago

Retailer says shift will improve care coordination and patient access
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Advocate Health Care, the largest health system in Illinois, will take over the ownership and operation of Walgreens' 56 healthcare clinics across the Chicago area. The clinics will be rebranded as Advocate Clinic at Walgreens and officially will open under Advocate in May.

Walgreens said in an announcement that the move is part of its two-pronged strategy to expand its retail clinics, and improve care delivery by developing "more innovative approaches with health systems."

Forbes said the sale of the drugstore chain's retail clinics is part of its growing strategy to hand off operations to local providers.  In 2015 Walgreens announced that Seattle-based Providence Health & Services, the third largest not-for profit health system in the United States, would open 25 new retail clinics inside Walgreens drug stores in Oregon and Washington.

But the sale also is part of the retailer's strategy to streamline operations and cut costs, according to the Chicago Tribune. The pharmacy chain previously staffed the retail health clinics with its own employees or nurse practitioners.

In today's announcement, Advocate said the clinics will be staffed with board-certified nurse practitioners employed by, trained by and supervised by Advocate Medical Group. The health system also said it plans to hire its initial workforce from among the employees currently working at Walgreens clinic locations.

In an interview with Forbes, Lee Sacks, M.D., chief medical officer at Advocate, said the clinics will also allow the system to redirect patients away from expensive emergency room visits.

"We see thousands of patients in the emergency room," he told the publication. "Hopefully we can be more successful in directing some of them to Advocate Clinics at Walgreens."

More hospitals may want to follow the lead of Advocate and Providence Health & Services as more consumers seek care at retail clinics.  An October 2015 by the Convenient Care Association said the partnerships allow patients with greater access to follow-up care within 30 days of discharge.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the Forbes article
- check out the Chicago Tribune coverage

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