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Monday, Oct 3, 2022
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Sharp Joins MinuteClinic For Retail-Based Care

Sharp HealthCare has teamed up with MinuteClinic, the retail health care division of CVS Caremark Corp. Sharp physicians will now help oversee patient treatment in the 10 walk-in medical clinics that are located in CVS pharmacy stores around San Diego County. They are designed to be highly accessible: They’re open seven days a week and in the evenings, and patients can be seen without an appointment.

Studies are finding that retail clinics are proving to be more efficient, cost-effective ways to provide basic care — and in the past year or so, many hospital systems have been signing on. A key reason, they say, is to prepare for the 30 million newly insured patients that will enter the health care system next year through Obamacare, the Affordable Health Care Act.

There are about 1,400 retail clinics around the country. A report released last month from Dublin, Ireland-based management consulting firm Accenture PLC found that the number of retail clinics will double nationally in three years, and ultimately save the health care system $800 million each year.

Frontline Defense

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Retail clinics serve as a frontline defense for hospital systems, as patients are only treated and monitored for simple conditions like strep throat or high blood pressure. More serious conditions will be referred to physicians — in this case, in the Sharp network.

“Consumers are finding these retail clinics more convenient and accessible,” said Mike Murphy, president and CEO of Sharp HealthCare. “And we would like to take this opportunity to create this additional entry point for a patient into the Sharp system.”

Indeed, hospital systems like Sharp Health are developing these affiliations for several strategic reasons — including growing their patient volume in a competitive market, said Steven Escoboza, president of the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“For one, hospitals can increase market share through enhanced referrals,” he said. “They also want to become closer to the consumers. Having a branded retail clinic to partner with allows for the engagement of consumers that they might not otherwise have had a relationship with.”

The Accenture report said that the rise of retail clinics grew to 1,175 nationally between 2000 and 2008, but then the growth rate screeched to a near-halt in 2009.

“One of the reasons for the slowed growth was the failure of clinics to forge partnerships with hospitals or primary care providers,” the report said. “Until recently, hospitals and primary care doctors widely regarded these clinics as a major threat to their business models and worked hard to undermine the clinics’ public standing.”

But that has changed dramatically — MinuteClinic, for instance, has affiliations with 26 major health systems — including Cleveland Clinic, UC Los Angeles, Emory University and, of course, Sharp HealthCare.

“Today, the landscape is fundamentally different as the very clinics once perceived as rivals may represent a key tool for managing patient volume,” the Accenture report said.

MinuteClinic President Andrew Sussman called as many as 50 percent of MinuteClinic patients “medically homeless” — though insured, they didn’t have a primary care doctor.

“If you think about where we are in health care with the Affordable Care Act beginning to take effect, we have a huge shortage of primary care doctors,” said Sussman, who also is senior vice president and associate medical officer of CVS Caremark. “Being able to collaborate with health systems expands our ability to care for patients.”

MinuteClinic has seen 15 million patients since it was founded in 2000 in Minnesota, and acquired by CVS in 2006. It has 640 clinics across the country. It added 200 more in just the past year, and Sussman said the goal is to reach 1,500 retail clinics by 2017. MinuteClinic is the largest retail clinic network in the country.

The Sharp-MinuteClinic partnership isn’t a new model to San Diego. Palomar Health in 2008 established four walk-in health centers within Albertsons and Sav-On Pharmacy stores in North County. On-site Palomar nurse practitioners team up with Palomar physicians working remotely to provide early stage care at these “Expresscare” centers.

“Everyone is kind of experimenting with nontraditional ways of delivering health care,” Escoboza said.

A 2009 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the overall cost at retail clinics was substantially lower than other avenues of care. The quality, however, was comparable. A retail clinic visit might cost $110, versus a $166 physician office visit, a $156 urgent care visit, or a $570 emergency room visit — all treating the same kind of condition, the report said.

The Profit Picture

And the retail clinic model is proving profitable: The 2012 annual report from CVS Caremark said that MinuteClinic has had a 39 percent compound growth rate over the past six years. It expects 2013 revenue of $225 million, up more than 20 percent from 2012, when its revenue was about $190 million.

The UC-Los Angeles Health System joined the MinuteClinic bandwagon about a year ago, operating more than a dozen retail clinics in Los Angeles and Orange County.

“We made the decision because we really wanted to expand further into the community, to pre-primary care, to take care of patients in settings that are convenient and have late hours during the day,” said David Feinberg, president of the UCLA Health System.

One of the key advantages, Feinberg said, is that the university health system is working with MinuteClinic to integrate medical records. A visit to a UCLA-affiliated retail clinic will get logged into a patient’s medical records in the same manner that it might if the person were to visit a UCLA hospital or doctor. Sussman said this is the direction that all of the MinuteClinics affiliated with hospital systems are headed.

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