Retail clinics provide better access to care and can be more economically feasible for patients when compared with traditional clinics. Specifically, benefits were observed for preventive care or acute medical issues. As reported in a viewpoint published in JAMA, patient satisfaction for care received at retail clinics is generally positive; however, increased use of retail clinic services can often dissipate the potential financial savings that retail clinics often cite.

Due to the slowing federal progress of value-based purchasing, improvement in this area relies on efforts by the private sector. The CVS/Aetna retail clinic, for example, is posited as a potential disruptive innovator in this regard, with some hoping that this partnership will result in improved care access, lower costs, and greater care quality. A total of 1100 CVS/Aetna retail clinics are currently in operation across the country, with 9700 more stores being proposed. Growing market share as well as controlling networks represent short-term goals of many for- and not-for-profit healthcare systems, whereas the creation of flexible and technology-driven integrated healthcare systems that reach consumers and improve care costs represents the long-term goal.

To accomplish these goals, the integration of medical records is imperative. Ultimately, the use of electronic “big data” among retail clinics may not only assist in personalized medicine, which ultimately leads to greater response to therapy and better prognosis, but may also improve patient engagement. Mobile applications, which enable patients to access their healthcare information from retail centers, may help drive greater focus among patients, all without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Greater reliance on electronic data can also help retail stores facilitate more efficient inventory management and increase their targeted marketing efforts.

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Retail clinics may also soon rely on some aspects of artificial intelligence and machine learning to help reduce the need for physicians or other healthcare professionals as the point of first contact, reserving these individuals as points of contact for complex issues or difficult diagnoses.

Despite the supposed increase in cost efficiency for patients, there is increased use of retail clinic services among the “worried well,” resulting in greater healthcare dollars spent. The CVS/Aetna partnership’s goal is to lower costs; in fact, Aetna is already seeking to expand Medicaid risk contracts, which may contribute to the value-based market. Currently, however, there are no reports from CVS/Aetna on what incentives will change that will create greater focus on improved care quality and lower costs vs maximizing drug profits.

Overall, the ultimate success of any retail clinic initiative “will depend on ensuring highest-quality care, enhancing patient satisfaction, and reducing health care costs.”

Reference

Cassel CK. Can retail clinics transform health care? [published online April 12, 2018]. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.2172