On the street
Yes I would, just for the convenience of it … as long insurance still covered it.
An explosion in the number of retail medical clinics is occurring nationwide.
From 2006 to 2007, the number of clinics grew 220 percent from 250 to more than 800, according to Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. The number is expected to reach 5,000 by 2010.
According the Kansas Health Policy Authority, Kansas has seen the fastest expansion of these clinics — 52 percent — between February 2008 and November 2008. The state has 25 clinics, including one that opened in September in Lawrence. Florida came in second with a 28 percent increase.
Why so popular?
The explosion has grabbed the attention of primary care providers. That’s because retail clinics are accessible and often cost less.
According to Deloitte, the cost of services provided at retail clinics ranges from $50 to $75, with the majority priced at $59, compared with a doctor’s office visit, which generally costs from $55 to $250. Another study found the average total cost for a retail clinic visit was $51 less than in the urgent care setting, $55 less than a doctor’s office and $279 less than in the emergency department.
Retail clinics often cost less because they are staffed by nurse practitioners — something most consumers don’t seem to mind.
Almost 50 percent of consumers report being receptive to retail clinics and are not concerned about safety issues.
“Consumers are looking for convenience primarily,” said Dr. Lori Heim, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. The retail clinics typically are open longer and see people on a first-come, first-serve basis.
She said the clinics serve two types of patients: those who don’t have a doctor and those who have a primary physician but can’t get a timely appointment.
Heim said the retail clinics are driving many doctors to expand hours and rearrange their schedules to allow for more same-day visits.
That is happening in Lawrence.
Two weeks ago, Mount Oread Family Practice extended its hours until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
In November, Lawrence Family Practice Center opened its own walk-in clinic. Its hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
“It’s really just a convenience factor for all patients whether they are ours or someone else’s,” said Susan Hall, office manager.
The walk-in clinic is staffed by a nurse practitioner, but doctors are available for on-site consultations if needed. As of Jan. 15, the new clinic had provided care for about 250 people.
Heim, of American Academy of Family Physicians, recommends using a primary care physician first and then a walk-in clinic at a physician’s practice as a second option if appointments aren’t available. She said retail clinics should be used only as a last resort to avoid going to a hospital emergency room.
That’s because the academy believes clinics are contributing to the nation’s problem of fragmented care. For example, there may be no follow-up appointment. Also, a patient may get an immunization, but his or her primary doctor never finds out.
“When a patient has one usual source of care from a primary care physician, they will have a better outcome and higher quality of care,” Heim said.
For example, Heim said if one of her diabetic patients made an appointment for a cold, she might remind that patient to get her glucose levels checked. She also might ask if the patient has had a mammogram and maybe even schedule an appointment.
“There’s continuity,” she said. “If you are a patient, you already are going to a doctor that has your medical records, they know your medical history and they will be able to follow up with you.”
Filling a void
But, Gabriel Weissman, Take Care Health Systems spokesman, said the company’s Take Care Clinics, which are located in Walgreen Drug Stores, go the extra mile to provide continuity of care.
He said all patients receive a follow-up phone call from the nurse practitioner who provided treatment. All patients receive a copy of their visit record and, if consent is given, a copy also is faxed to their primary care provider’s office. If a patient doesn’t have a primary care provider, the clinic provides a list of doctors who are accepting new patients in the area.
“We are really focused on providing high-quality, affordable and convenient health care,” Weissman said. “We are absolutely an advocate for our patients.”
The clinics operate under the same state guidelines as other health facilities, Weissman said. Take Care Clinics also have met additional guidelines set by the Convenient Care Association. On Feb. 10, the clinics passed an official certification process by the Jefferson School of Population Health, a premier academic health center. Take Care Clinics were noted for their exceptional performance in quality monitoring, quality of care, patient referrals to primary care providers and usage of electronic medical records.
The first Take Care Clinic opened in November 2005 and since then has expanded to 330 clinics in 19 states and has served 1 million patients. It owns at least half of the retail clinics in Kansas, including the one in Lawrence.
Take Care Health Systems says it is filling a gap in the country’s health system. Here’s why:
• Nearly 30 percent of patients would have gone to the emergency room if a clinic didn’t exist. Eleven percent would not have sought treatment.
• About 20 percent of patients are either uninsured or pay cash for these services, suggesting they may be uninsured or underinsured.
• Roughly 30 percent of patients who visit the clinics do not have a primary care provider.
Olathe Health Care System and CVS Pharmacy own the other retail medical clinics in Kansas. A CVS Pharmacy spokesman said there are no plans to add a clinic in Lawrence.
Lawrence’s first walk-in clinic
Dr. Ronald Burt is a pioneer when it comes to providing convenient health care in Lawrence. Burt and his wife, Nancy, opened First Med Family & Walk-in Care Clinic on Aug. 2, 1993.
“We were new to town and we had seen that there was no walk-in medical care available,” Burt said. “We thought we should try and fill that need.”
On that first day, he provided care for 14 patients who walked into the clinic. The clinic still serves two of those patients, but is much different today. Now there are five doctors and one nurse practitioner, and their business is about 40 percent walk-in patients and 60 percent ongoing patients.
Burt said his job is gratifying because he works in acute and chronic care. Priority is given to the clinic’s regular patients who have appointments, he said, and the system has worked well.
Dr. David Dunlap said working in a walk-in clinic is what attracted him to Lawrence.
“I like the idea of being able to provide same-day care. When people are sick, I don’t think they should have to wait three or four days to get treated,” Dunlap said.
When he practiced in Hutchinson, he left time open for same-day appointments and generally filled them. It’s something he thinks many doctors don’t do because they fear they won’t be busy.
Dunlap said Lawrence’s new walk-in clinics haven’t slowed business, and he noted differences. At First Med, clients will see a doctor, not a nurse.
“If those places can provide quality care, then great,” Dunlap said. “But I think sometimes they’re limited in what they can see. We don’t have too many limitations.”
The National Academy for State Health Policy released a report this month regarding the operation and licensure of retail clinics. Despite the rapid growth, it found few states have developed regulations to govern retail clinics’ organization and operations. Many states are just letting market forces decide the fate of retail clinics. Only Massachusetts has written regulations specific to retail clinics.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Health Policy Authority had no comment on the growth or regulations concerning retail clinics.
For a majority of states, the care provided in retail clinics is not subject to oversight by health departments, according the national report. Instead, oversight is provided by the applicable licensing authority — for example, the Board of Nursing.
Kristi Pankratz, public information officer of the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts, said Kansas is no different. She said individual practitioners are licensed and regulated, meaning if there is a clinic that involves a chiropractor, a cosmetologist and a licensed nurse practitioner, one agency wouldn’t have complete oversight over all licensees and services provided. It would involve multiple agencies.
“When it comes to walk-in clinics, there are numerous overlapping regulators as well as gaps in the regulatory framework and that does concern us,” Pankratz said.