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Firsthand proof that retail clinics are flourishing

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Rob EderEDITOR IN CHIEF

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When Drug Store News published its first issue of Retail Clinician in spring 2006, there were about 100 clinics in operation; today there are more than 700 clinics operating across the country, and by the end of the year it likely will be in the 800 to 900 range. That number is expected to double year-over-year well into the foreseeable future.

It’s really not that surprising. In a lot of ways I am actually a pretty good illustration of why the clinic model is flourishing in America today. You see, I’m not just the editor, but in the words of International Hair Club for Men icon Sy Sperling, I’m also a customer; certainly, a more frequent customer than I ever might have imagined I would be. Admittedly, I am not exactly the greatest consumer of health care. Up until about one month ago I had been to the doctor just once in the last two years—my wife made me as it had been five years, prior to that, since my last physical.

On the other hand, I have visited retail clinics four times since the debut of Retail Clinician—not as the editor, but as a patient. I go to the clinic because it’s accessible to me on my terms; when I am sick the NPs are there to treat me. I don’t need an appointment and because of the limited scope of services that most operators offer, I can reasonably expect that it will take about 15 minutes for every patient that is ahead of me until I will be seen.

It is affordable; most of the leading providers accept about 90 percent of all insurance plans.

It is a seamless experience. I am treated and diagnosed, and if I receive a prescription I can walk across the store and expect the whole experience to be over in about another 15 minutes—or less.

The quality of care is exceptional; all of the major providers have standard treatment protocols in place, established patient referral systems with local physicians, medical offices, hospitals and healthcare systems, and more important, these clinics are leading the expansion of healthcare information technology that is the only real chance this country has to repair its highly fractured healthcare system. When patients leave most retail clinics they walk away with an electronic medical record, which will be the basis of any personalized record that would enable providers across a broad spectrum of practice settings to get a patient’s medical history.

Why don’t I go to the doctor any more? It has become almost the exact opposite of the retail clinic experience.

It can take a week or more to get an appointment. By then I will either be well again or dead from whatever it was I had.

Like many Americans, my company has changed health plans a number of times over the past several years and my regular doctor hasn’t always been a part of my available network; he doesn’t participate in my current plan.

The process of seeking treatment through traditional channels can be a nightmare. In October, I had the displeasure of breaking my nose pretty badly. In addition to the break, I also required a couple of stitches to close a nasty gash on the bridge of my nose. As I had the incredibly bad timing to receive my injuries late on a Sunday evening, it was six hours and one $75 co-pay before I was done.

Even on a busy Saturday evening—the medical assistant that admitted me joked that if I got there five minutes later she would have broken my nose all over again—with several patients ahead of me, it only took 30 minutes and a $15 co-pay to get my stitches out, five days later, at the Duane Reade Walk-In Medical Care clinic in Times Square.

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