It wasn't long ago that a visit to the doctor often meant sitting in the waiting room long past your appointment time — two hours wasn't unheard of — before you were ushered into the exam room. As the patient, you had no recourse.

However, there has been a shift in favor of the patient, with the introduction of a more customer service-oriented approach to care: retail health. Retail health clinics, or mini clinics, are sprouting up across the country. Popular for their convenience of walk-in service and extended hours, each is staffed with an onsite medical professional who provides basic care services like administering flu shots, conducting health screenings and treating minor illnesses and injuries.

The clinics are often housed in drug stores such as CVS and Walgreens, supermarkets and mega-stores like Walmart. And recently, some employer benefits packages are including subscriptions to tele-health (Virtual Doctor Visits) programs such as MDLive in which a patient videoconferences for a few minutes — via his or her home computer — with a care provider who can prescribe medications or diagnose minor illnesses.

Regardless of the form these clinics take, they are popular with patients. They could become even more popular now that more than 16 million Americans have gained health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act. Despite the surge in the insurance rolls, there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of care providers. This could mean that even with coverage, these newly insured patients may not get the care they need. Retail health clinics, coupled with tele-health capabilities, could play a role in helping fill that gap and provide timely, effective care when patients need it most.

It will be interesting to see how the retail health segment evolves in the near future. How can we help it succeed? How can we ensure the level of quality care patients receive? Do we have enough skilled health care workers to operate the proliferation of these clinics where they are needed most? The panel discussion on retail health could yield some insights.


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I’m compensated by University of Phoenix for this blog and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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