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The Retail Health Solution to Cost, Quality and Access

Discussions at the 2013 Forbes Healthcare Summit

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In the midst of the heated rhetoric of the Affordable Care Act and how we can deliver health care to the millions of Americans who need it, a diverse group of panelists at last week’s Forbes Healthcare Summit seemed to have agreed upon one important point: retail health has an important role to play in delivering high-quality care and lowering cost.

What started as a cash-for-service private sector initiative has grown exponentially over the past few years and sees no signs of slowing. CVS Caremark (disclosure: client) runs Minute Clinics – the country’s largest chain of retail health clinics, with 740 clinics and a goal of 1,500 by 2017.  Ten million patient visits have taken place here with nurse practitioners adhering to evidence-based guidelines in the last three years alone.

At the Forbes event, Andy Sussman, MD, president of CVS Caremark’s Minute Clinics, spoke passionately about the need for medical professionals to practice to “the full ability of their license.” Essentially, let the nurse practitioner use all of their skills and practice at the highest end of what they are trained to do, supporting the physician who also operates at the full ability of his/her license in the supply chain of care delivery – a notion that seems difficult to argue against.

Moving up the acuity level, there are predictions that the 9,000 urgent care facilities with physicians on staff in the U.S. will grow to 12,000 by 2017. Traver Hutchins, CEO of ASAP Urgent Care, spoke with equal conviction of the need to treat the patient increasingly spending their hard-earned dollars as a consumer, and of the imperative “to provide the right care at the right time, to the right patient at the right price.”

Kym White

The incoming president of the American Medical Association (AMA), Dr. Robert M. Wah, spoke on behalf of America’s physicians and called these developments an “exciting addition to our delivery system” while stressing the need to ensure connectivity with a primary care physician and continuity of care. Dr. Wah noted that we must recognize the limits of care that can be delivered in these settings, and demonstrating the panel’s philosophical agreement, Dr. Sussman joked that no one will be performing an appendectomy at a CVS anytime soon.

In the heat of a government shut down over Obamacare, leaders from academia, the AMA and the private sector seemed refreshingly united in recognizing that retail health has a significant and meaningful role to play in delivering cost-effective, high-quality care and to keep the emergency room from functioning as a very expensive back-up plan when primary care is not easily available.

As one speaker noted, opining on the emerging shortage of primary care physicians in the U.S., “If you think it can be tough to get an appointment with your doctor now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Despite the political infighting about the role of government in how we address access to care, winners are emerging from the private sector that are delivering high-quality care at high value, with pricing transparency and consumer-centricity, and a realistic vision of the role they play with respect for the primary care physician and larger health ecosystem they support. Sounds like a winning prescription for health to me.

Kym White is the global practice chair, Health.

Image by e-Magine Art.
  • Stephen Johnston

    Interesting. I wonder the retail model supports or contradicts home based monitoring and telehealth? Especially for older people, it’s important that people get out and about in the community, rather than being stuck indoors the whole time, so I welcome this development.

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