by Tiffany Lauria
In a world where we can access up-to-the-minute information on our smartphones, purchase a car and drive off the lot that day, and cook a microwaved meal in 5 minutes flat, is it any wonder that patients are carrying over that need for ‘instant gratification’ into their interactions with physicians?
Today’s patients are demanding faster service and faster results, while still expecting quality care and affordable treatments. And that demand has lead to the explosion of retail clinics onto the healthcare scene. While growth in the number of retail clinics has generally slowed, the impact of the continuing development in this field can’t be ignored, with an estimated 1,200 clinics being formed in the US since their inception in 2000.
A recently released Rand Health1 report highlighted the most common reasons why patients chose to utilize a retail clinic for their healthcare needs. Since these clinics are not going away anytime soon, it is to your practice’s benefit to learn from the model and minimize the impact that a clinic can have on your practice and your patients. The issues surrounding retail clinics in the healthcare landscape are too numerous to cover here, but focusing on patient preferences is a good way to determine if you are in competition with the clinic down the block.
What are some things the retail clinics offer that draws a patient in?
- Clinic offering: Convenience- flexible hours, immediate access, and centrally located to other needed services (such as pharmacies and shops to complete errands while patients are waiting).
How to do it: When was the last time you analyzed your schedule? Do you offer extended hours- early mornings and late afternoons and evenings to accommodate working and school age patients? Have you blocked out specific times during the day for walk-in appointments and urgent matters? And most importantly, have you advertised this fact to your patients and the community? Convenience is only convenient if you know about it!
If your office is not located within a reasonable range from a pharmacy, consider working with a vendor and implementing point-of-care dispensing in your office.
- Clinic offering: Low Cost Care- Most retail clinics accept healthcare insurance, and their cost of care is lower than care provided by a medical office physician, which is an incentive for uninsured patients.
How to do it: Have resources at the ready and provide all of your uninsured patients with low cost state insurance options. The goal- get these patients covered and stop the exodus into retail clinics for acute care or preventive care episodes. Keep them in-house whenever possible.
As it is likely difficult enough to cover practice costs currently, it may be impossible for you to lower service costs any further. Be sure to offer flexible payment plans and provide sensitivity training for your billing staff when dealing with payment issues. Be sure that all staff know to never turn away a patient due to monetary issues, arrangements can generally be made.
On another note, increased care coordination efforts can be very useful in lowering practice costs, and in keeping your patients healthier in the long run.
Taking a look at the above items brings to mind another, more rapidly growing healthcare model- the Patient Centered Medical Home. Physician access, patient satisfaction, cost of care and the like are all components of the PCMH. So while the retail clinic down the block may be siphoning off your profits by drawing patients away, implementing some tweaks in your operations may lead to recognition as a PCMH, and the enhanced reimbursement that comes right along with it. For certain, the opportunities are there, because as the Rand report noted, only 39% of people that visited a retail clinic report having an established relationship with a primary care provider.
Reach out for improvements in your practice, because the additional 61% are still out there.
 Weinick, Robin M. et al. Policy Implications of the Use of Retail Clinics. Rand Health, a division of The Rand Corporation. (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/2010/RAND_TR810.pdf.