PHARMACY

Walgreens Healthcare Clinic invests in continuum of care

BY Richard Monks

Walgreens has been at the forefront of the movement to make retail clinics a cornerstone of the American healthcare system.

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With more than 350 corporate-owned clinics in 20 states operating under the Healthcare Clinic banner and about 50 other clinics in its stores run by other providers, a long list of affiliations with health systems across the country and cutting-edge technology, the company has established itself as a critical provider of health services for thousands of Americans.

Since opening its first clinics in the early 2000s, Walgreens has grown that portion of its business by slowly adding more company-owned, walk-in health centers and partnering with established clinic operators to put clinics in Walgreen stores in certain markets.

In April, for instance, Walgreens teamed up with SSM Health on a deal under which SSM will take over ownership and operation of 27 Healthcare Clinics in St. Louis-area Walgreens stores. The clinics are expected to be renamed SSM Health Express Clinic at Walgreens later this year.

The deal followed an agreement in January between Walgreens and Advocate Health Care that has seen Advocate open 56 clinics at Walgreens stores in the Chicago suburbs.

“We believe this approach will help ensure a true continuum of care for patients and their providers. This is also an emphasis for our Walgreens-managed clinics, where we continue to make investments, such as a new EHR platform, to offer patient benefits through a variety of convenient care options,” Walgreens Healthcare Clinic chief medical officer Pat Carroll said.

He noted that by collaborating with other healthcare providers, Walgreens is helping drive the transition of the retail health clinic model from one providing urgent, episodic care to one offering more coordinated care. A key component of that coordination has come from Walgreens’ use of the Epic electronic health record platform that went into effect earlier this year.

“This state-of-the-industry EHR enables seamless communication with health systems and local providers, and gives us enhanced capabilities to deliver better health outcomes through greater care coordination and interoperability,” Carroll said. “As our clinics play an increasingly important role in health care — supporting the healthcare system, provider practices and patients’ medical homes — care coordination can be critical.”

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Affiliations, partnerships driving patient health

BY Richard Monks

As it continues to evolve, CVS Health’s MinuteClinic is taking the concept of walk-in health care to a new level.

(To view the full Category Review, click here.)

With more than 1,100 clinics — including 79 in Target stores — MinuteClinic offers the country’s largest network of no-appointment-needed retail health services. The company estimates that since becoming part of CVS a decade ago, it has treated nearly 30 million patients.

Recognizing that the ongoing evolution of the U.S. healthcare system will lead to convenient care clinics playing a more significant role in patient care, MinuteClinic has continually expanded its reach, added new services and enhanced its offering through partnerships with other healthcare providers.

In April, for instance, the company teamed up with the Cleveland Clinic to provide patients at Ohio MinuteClinics with access to its experts for both online and mobile doctor visits. Under the program, patients deemed to need more extensive care than the walk-in clinic staff can provide can get a video follow-up consultation with a primary care practitioner from the Cleveland Clinic.

Anderew Sussmanm, president of Minute-Clinic and SVP and associate chief medical officer of CVS Caremark, has said CVS sees such telehealth services as this as playing an increasingly central role in patient care going forward. To that end, the company has been working with three established remote visits companies — American Well, Doctor On Demand and Teladoc — to expand its telehealth capabilities and services.

Meanwhile, MinuteClinic continues to add clinical affiliations. In recent months, the company has joined forces with John Muir Health in California; University of Chicago Medical Center in Illinois; Novant Health, serving the Winston-Salem area, in North Carolina; and University of Michigan Health System in Michigan.

Executives said the affiliations and the more than 60 other partnerships MinuteClinic and CVS Health have developed over the years help drive patient health.

“By allowing our electronic health records and information systems to communicate and share important information about the patients we collectively serve, we will have a more comprehensive view of our patients, which can aid in healthcare decision-making and help ensure patients adhere to important medications for chronic diseases, and collaborative programs that enhance access to patient care, improve health outcomes and lower healthcare costs in the communities they serve,” CVS Health chief medical officer Troyen Brennan said when the deals were announced.

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Study argues against cost-savings benefits at clinics

BY Richard Monks

While much has been made about retail clinics’ ability to trim healthcare costs, a study published in the journal Health Affairs this spring suggested that these walk-in health centers may actually boost overall spending by encouraging people to get care for minor problems that mostly would have cleared up on their own.

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The study — conducted by a six-person team of researchers from RAND; Health Policy and Governing Board of the Health Care Cost Institute at Carnegie Mellon University; Brigham and Women’s Hospital; University of Texas School of Public Health; and Harvard Medical School — found that 58% of retail clinic visits for several minor conditions represented a new use of medical services. Just 42% replaced a costlier doctor visit or trip to the hospital.

The authors concluded that the additional visits caused healthcare spending to increase by $14 per person per year.

Industry officials were highly critical of the results, calling them flawed and too narrowly focused on old data.

“It is not an accurate assessment of retail clinic cost savings and value,” CVS MinuteClinic president Andrew Sussman told the online publication California Healthline. “It is a step backward to think of people who did not have a primary care physician as excess utilization. It’s not excessive costs to take care of people who don’t have a doctor. In fact, we are reaching an underserved population with retail clinics.”

The study, he said, failed to explore the overall savings clinics can provide.

“If you think about a patient with the flu who doesn’t have a physician, they can get care at an inexpensive retail clinic on the weekend before their condition gets worse and they might need a costly hospitalization,” Sussman said.

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