So, it looks like retail clinic news has been a matter of two steps forward, one step back. For example, Cigna has just announced that it would pay for care delivered at another retail clinic chain, increasing its reach to quite a large number of such clinics. This bodes well for other larger commercial insurers to take similar steps, which can only help accelerate the growth of the industry.
On the negative side of the column, meanwhile, retail clinic chain Medical Marts has shuttered operations. And more worrisome, for people pushing the retail clinic model, the state of Illinois is pondering rules that would slip in a provision preventing stores that host clinics from selling tobacco or alcohol, a requirement most retailers just couldn't afford. My gut feeling is that this won't pass, though you never know how regional politics will play out. It seems transparently on the punitive side, which will turn off all but the most ardent clinic opponents.
Still, there's no sign that the industry as a whole is slowing down. For example, Walgreens has already rolled out almost 150 Take Care brand clinics, and plans to have 400 in its stores by the end of 2008. CVS/Caremark, for its part, opened its 500th clinic last week. And let's, by no means, forget about Wal-Mart, which is steamrolling ahead toward its larger goal of implementing about 2,000 clinics over the next several years--at this point, focusing largely on partnerships with providers.
Sure, if they can get away with it, state medical societies are going to continue to push measures that will limit or even prevent the emergence of retail clinics. But I don't think they will. From where I sit, the retail clinic industry may be evolving into a model where existing providers, rather than smaller entrepreneurial companies, are likely to drive the train, but I'm pretty confident the train will keep rolling. - Anne