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Retail Health Clinics: 3 Tips for Adapting to the Changing Environment

by Evan Grossman, VP of Consulting Services

In an earlier post, we considered the access, cost, and quality of care at retail health clinics, analyzing data from our cloud-based network to gain visibility around this non-traditional model of care. The data showed that retail clinics are certainly playing a role in the market; now, with patients seeking care across a variety of settings, the emphasis must be on ways health systems and independent practices can adapt to the changing environment and work in tandem with retail health clinics to better serve patients.

Our top three tips:

  1. Consider non-traditional hours of operation
    Patients are likely to choose a retail clinic for greater convenience during those particular times when an appointment with their primary care physician (PCP) is unavailable. With that in mind, primary care practices can consider setting aside time for appropriate same-day appointments, providing expanded hours for certain services, and actively publicizing both. You can promote your new availability with a simple poster in your waiting room touting your evening, weekend, and same-day appointment times. Be sure to describe the types of appointments you’ll cater to off-hours.
  2. Optimize the coordination of care
    PCP practices should consider retail clinics in their community as a resource. For instance, rather than cede their role in after-hours care, primary providers can stay involved in its delivery by recommending trusted clinics to patients seeking treatment outside business hours, establish working relationships with those clinics, and by doing so, encourage the referral of patients to the PCP for all services outside those clinics’ scope of care. Essential to such relationships is the open exchange of patient information between settings, a sharing of clinical and demographic information that benefits, first and foremost, the patient.
  3. Observe retail clinics
    Take the time to visit a retail clinic or other successful non-traditional care setting and see what you can learn. Considering their unconventional location, how do they create a welcoming atmosphere for their patients? Does their operation appear to be leaner or more efficient? If so, why? What are the steps they’re taking to satisfy patients and delivery quality care—and more important, are there any components of their practice worth implementing at yours? Have an open mind about new patient experiences in the market, and the simple ways to work them into your trusted, established organization.

I recently spoke to a group of retail clinic caregivers, and many recounted stories of patients fearing repercussions by their PCP if it was discovered they had sought treatment at a retail clinic; some talked about being “fired” by their primary care doctor following a clinic visit.

These instances are anecdotal, of course, but they act as a strong reminder that embracing the potential of a partnership—and avoiding conflict, which is detrimental for all—poses a win-win situation for both primary care practices and retail clinics. If you’re a larger health system that is sharing risk and incented to reduce cost, having clear partnerships with lower-cost delivery locations can have a notable benefit.

With more patients seeking care as a result of the Affordable Care Act, ongoing pressure to lower health care costs, and continuing demographic shifts (more dual-income families, less ability for people to see a doctor during traditional 9-5 hours), more patients may be moving from traditional models of care to alternatives such as retails clinics and urgent care centers.

These innovative business models are not going away—and neither is the need to share vital patient information across the continuum of care. With the effective flow of information, patients are empowered to get the care they need when and where they need it. And caregivers are continually equipped to view a patient’s health history holistically, and deliver care accordingly.

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