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Retail health clinics play larger role in consumer health care

Nigel F. Maynard
Editorial Director

It’s been an eventful three years for retail pharmacy. True, the industry has been evolving for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many of the issues swirling retail pharmacy. But perhaps now is the time to answer the $10,000 question: What’s next?

To answer that question, perhaps we should take a brief survey of the recent past. Retail health clinics are no longer the small space in the corner of a supermarket or drug store where consumers could get flu shots or fill scripts. Services are much more varied now — including chronic care management, mental health services, diabetic foot care, medication therapy management, adherence packaging and more — and retail locations also have changed to accommodate this new reality.

[Read more: Access to pharmacy services is game-changer on local level]

During the COVID-19 crisis, retail clinics became even more important destinations for testing, as well as for routine care, while other healthcare providers shuttered their offices. Then the retail clinics became sources of vaccines and other pandemic-related care. Today, the estimated 3,300 retail health clinics throughout North America are expanding their offerings to provide a range of care for consumers. 

“Receiving full practice authority will require a longer-term strategy, but retail pharmacies can help themselves by getting the word out to consumers that they are open for healthcare business.”

But now the industry must plan for the next chapter in this storyline, and this month's cover story explores the opportunities and the challenges in that effort. Even as retail health clinics are playing a larger role in consumer health care, the industry is making it clear that it is not trying to replace existing primary care providers.

The other issue the industry has to overcome is the limit on full practice authority clinicians and pharmacists. “It’s a policy-oriented barrier,” Nate Bronstein of the Convenient Care Association told us. “Depending on the state they’re in, the providers in retail health clinics, nurse practitioners or physician associates may be required to have direct physician oversight.”

[Read more: State of play: Profiling state efforts to expand pharmacist scope of practice]

Receiving full practice authority will require a longer-term strategy, but retail pharmacies can help themselves by getting the word out to consumers that they are open for healthcare business. “I think many people believe that primary care clinics located in retail have a limited set of services,” said Clive Fields, chief medical officer and co-founder of VillageMD. “Our challenge has been moving people to recognize they can get care in a convenient setting.”

Convincing consumers that retail pharmacy should be their first consideration for routine needs that do not require a primary care physician could go a long way toward the expansion of retail health. It could be the game-changing X factor that retail health really needs. After all, if you build it and then tell them you built it, they will likely come.

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