Retail clinics: Accepting the inevitable

Retail clinics: Accepting the inevitable
Retail clinics have gone from an interesting idea to an exploding healthcare industry sector in an amazingly short time. With Wal-Mart, CVS/Caremark and now Walgreen planning major expansions, it seems we'll be tripping over clinics rather than reading about them within a scant 18 months or so.

That such rapid growth should should upset doctors a bit isn't surprising. It's pretty rare that a competitor to primary care practice arises, particularly at the dotcom-style speed the clinics have. Disruptive trends are exciting for folks like me, looking at them from an armchair, but it's another thing entirely when they threaten to change your world.

That being said, competition is a fact of life. Attempting to regulate it away--as doctors are in Illinois--seems short-sighted and counterproductive. The energy they're spending to lobby state and federal legislatures could just as easily be spent developing new practice models. 

Before the national chains eat up the retail clinic business, now's the time for PCPs to offer more-convenient care on their own. They could start by simply extending their hours. (A few practices have already responded to the retail clinic boom this way.) A next step might be sitting down with deeper-pocketed hospitals to partner on retail clinic ventures in new settings like grocery stores, shopping malls or price clubs like Costco. And what about pitching your group as a source of local medical supervision to other retail clinic chains?

Let's face it, nobody wants to change a time-honored, reasonably successful way of doing business--but refusing to face reality doesn't help things much either. The reality is that retail clinics are likely to become a permanent fixture of healthcare delivery. So sticking your head in the sand and singing "la, la, la, I can't hear you" isn't going to make things any better. -Anne