In one of the most controversial moves of a retail clinic to date, Walgreens' Take Care Clinics will begin offering assessment, treatment and management for chronic conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma and others and will offer additional preventive health services, the pharmacy chain announced last week.
The company says the move is a response to an aging U.S. population and increased demand for services brought on by the Affordable Care Act. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants will provide these expanded services at 330 clinics in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Although Walgreens has stated that its goal is to "coordinate with" rather than replace primary care physicians, some experts view it as a competitive move.
"Those two words, diagnosis and treatment, are big words. They show [Walgreens] is coming out of the closet and saying, 'We really are going to do primary care now,'" Tom Charland, chief executive officer of healthcare consulting firm Merchant Medicine, told USA Today and Kaiser Health News.
Even before expanding into chronic care, when retail clinics provided care for a narrow menu of minor illnesses, family doctors had already begun to emulate the convenience of retail clinics. For example, 75 percent of family doctors now offer same-day scheduling and more than 50 percent provide weekend or evening hours, Jeffrey Cain, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told the Denver Post.
The AAFP has stated it opposes retail clinics providing services beyond "minor acute illnesses" and especially cautions against "the management of chronic medical conditions in this setting."
Cain, also a family physician in Denver, added to the Post, "Our concern is that expansion of retail clinics from urgent care into chronic care means they may get a piece of their diabetes here, blood pressure there. Our healthcare system is already fragmented."