Retail health clinics sprout up

    One-stop medical care offers convenience and cost-cutting, but comes with limitations.

    Retail health clinics are sprouting up around the country. Unlike doctor’s offices, they’re mostly staffed by nurses, and don’t provide continuing care, typically handling one-stop minor complaints. Many are found at stores like Target, CVS and Walgreens. Drexel University in Philadelphia is now the latest to jump in the game.

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    Three exam rooms and a waiting area painted Drexel purple now take the place of what used to be a Verizon store. Retail clinics offer convenience, and Drexel’s new health clinic is open 7am to 7pm, next to the Shops at Liberty Place in center city Philadelphia.

    Most retail clinics are connected to pharmacies like CVS. Drexel’s clinic has a medication vending machine instead. Kelly Mahan Solosky is the clinic’s lead nurse practitioner.

    Solosky: So if we write prescriptions for patients they don’t have to go to the pharmacy. Basically your major generic medications we have here which they can purchase through this machine.

    It’s stocked with treatments for colds, coughs, ear aches, skin rashes, simple ailments. For more complicated cases, the clinic has an MD on call, or will make appointments with Drexel doctors.

    Retail clinics have been around for about a decade, but now now number more than 1,000 across the U.S. Rand Corporation researcher Ateev Mehrotra says, like Drexel, more and more health systems are starting to add retail clinics to their facilities.

    Mehrotra: They are seeing that as a way of serving their population in a better way, in a more convenient way, than just in emergency department or doctor offices. And hopefully also decreasing the burden on their over burdened emergency rooms.

    Clinics can also cut costs. Mehrotra has found they cost 30 to 40% less than doctors’ offices, and 80% less than emergency rooms.

    Several doctor groups have voiced concerns about retail clinics that medical records might not be shared between the clinic and the patient’s primary care physician. But one guaranteed transparency is the price tag: unlike emergency rooms, patients know just how much they will be charged up front.

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