The first retail medical clinics started opening about 15 years ago, and by the end of 2015, there will be an estimated 2,800 of them in the United States. The largest chain of retail clinics is CVS's Minute Clinic chain, with over 800 locations in CVS pharmacies. By the end of 2013, more than one-third of medical patients had visited a retail clinic at some time.
The primary reason people are turning to retail medical clinics is access. Nearly half of all visits to retail clinics occur during the hours when most private medical practices are closed. People are looking for an alternative to emergency departments, and they've likely been exposed to retail clinics from ordinary shopping trips to pharmacies.
Price is another motive for patients to go to a retail clinic. It's not necessarily the actual prices but instead the pricing transparency. Prices and services are posted clearly, so patients know what to expect before their visit. Many health insurance plans are also covering these visits as they do care delivered in private practices. How can you expect retail clinics to affect your private physician practice? Here are some answers.
Drawbacks of Retail Medical Clinics for Patients
Perhaps the biggest concern with patient use of retail clinics is possible fragmentation of care. Could a retail clinic miss out on important information contained in the records of his or her primary care physician? If a patient receives an immunization, will the primary care practice be notified? Though the Convenient Care Association recommends that sending information back to the primary care physician be standard procedure for member retail clinics, that doesn't mean it happens consistently.
There are also risks associated with patients not remembering important information in their medical record that could affect the care they receive at a retail clinic. Misremembering the name of a medication to which they're allergic could lead to problems that negate the convenience and cost advantages of retail clinics.
How Retail Clinics Affect Private Medical Practices
Though there is some overlap in the care provided by retail clinics and that provided by private physician practices, there may not be as much as you think. People usually visit retail clinics for things like flu shots and non-emergency sick visits after hours. But there is the risk that patients may begin using retail clinics for more services that their primary care physician's practice provides.
Another way retail clinics could affect your practice is through referrals. About half of patients who visit retail clinics don't have a primary care physician. When a retail clinic needs to refer them somewhere, they're more likely to refer them to healthcare systems the retail clinic already has some connection to, which means an independent practice could miss out on these referrals.
Ensuring Your Practice Remains Competitive
Perhaps the worst thing you can do is pretend retail clinics don't exist, even though they are a convenient option for your patients when your office is closed. If you don't acknowledge retail clinics, patients may be reluctant to inform you when they go there, feeling as if they "cheated" on you by doing so. This could cause you to miss out on important patient communication that could affect their care.
If you can provide some of the features that make retail clinics appealing, like extended hours, it could be worth your time. Offering evening appointments one night a week can appeal to busy professionals who simply need a flu shot, for example. Additionally, more practices are offering "e-visits" by telemedicine, which is similar to Skype, and these offer maximum convenience since patients don't have to leave home.
Another option is to play up what differentiates your practice from retail clinics. If your wellness visits are particularly comprehensive, or if your practice offers "lifestyle" services like cosmetic procedures or an on-staff massage therapist, you can emphasize these differentiators. And if you think of retail clinics as a sort of triage channel for low-priority situations, it's OK to educate patients about nearby retail clinics and ask that they give permission for copies of retail clinic records to be sent to your office.
Retail clinics aren't going away, but if your private practice manages its revenue cycle well and offers the services people want, you should be only minimally affected by them. Electronic health record (EHR) solutions, coupled with well-managed coding, billing, and collections can keep your revenues healthy, even if you occasionally compete with retail clinics. At GroupOne Health Source, we can help you improve every aspect of your revenue cycle. If you'd like to learn more, we encourage you to contact us at any time.