NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 14, 2007

Retail health clinics are opening in big box stores and local pharmacies around the country to treat common maladies at prices lower than a typical doctor's visit and much lower than the emergency room, says Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute.

In addition, the clinics don't require appointments, they're open daytime, evenings and weekends and most take insurance.  This combination of low-cost care and convenience are making them immensely popular, says Turner.  Consider:

  • The Convenient Care Association estimates there are about 325 of these retail clinics operating nationwide today.
  • Some 76 of them are in Wal-Marts in 12 states, but the company announced last month it will expand to 400 clinics by the end of the decade and 2,000 in 5 to 7 years.
  • They are run by outside firms, including for-profit ventures like RediClinic, as well as local and regional health plans and hospitals.
  • They're popping up everywhere; you can find a MinuteClinic in the CVS store on the Strip in Las Vegas, an Express Clinic in Miami, MediMin in Phoenix or a Curaquick in Sioux City.

Rick Kellerman, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, concedes, "The retail clinics are sending physicians a message that our current model of care is not always easy to access."  The threat of competition from the in-store clinics means some doctors are keeping their practices open later and on Saturdays and holding an hour open for same-day appointments.  Competition works.

This industry is in its infancy and will hardly register in our nation's $2 trillion-plus health care bill, says Turner.  But just as Nucor overturned the steelmaking industry with a faster-better-cheaper way of making low-end rebar, these limited service clinics could be the disruptive innovator in our health care system.

Source: Grace-Marie Turner, "Customer Health Care," Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2007.

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