December 2014: Compete or Collaborate – Retail Clinic Reality Sets in For Urgent Care and Medical Groups

In 2006 when MinuteClinic, Take Care Health (now Walgreens Healthcare Clinic), The Little Clinic and RediClinic were in major expansion mode, there was a great deal of concern among both the urgent care and primary care communities.

One illustration of that concern occurred in October 2006 when SSM Healthcare in St. Louis announced it had ended its clinical affiliation agreement with Take Care Health, an affiliation that had been formed just three months earlier. There was no formal explanation of the rapid termination of that relationship, but a spokesperson said it was the result of extensive “dialogue” with its pediatricians.

Much of that fear subsided when the retail clinic industry went through a downturn from 2008 through 2011.  Since then, retail clinics appear to have reemerged as a legitimate player in the walk-in medicine space. In fact, in some markets it is almost a competition among health systems to land the best retail clinic affiliation agreement because of the potential of primary care referrals.  Urgent care clinic operators are also reaching out to local retail clinic practitioners seeking referrals of patients who present out of scope.

But to succeed alongside retail clinics, urgent care operators and health system medical groups must face a number of facts:
• Retail clinics now have broad geographic reach
• They benefit significantly from steerage by health plans and self-insured employers
• And they have reached a very high acceptance rate by consumers, both in terms of their trust of nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and an understanding of the limited-scope model.