Retail clinics and big-name medical centers are set for a growth surge, industry experts said at the American Telemedicine Association's annual meeting here this week.

Retail clinics, retail health clinics, American Telemedicine Association, Ronald Hammerle, Health Resources Ltd., Jay Sanders, retail-affiliated clinics, clinic retailers, telemedicine technologies, health care, medical homes, medical centers of excellence, automated clinical labs, digital medical devices, Walgreens, Take Care Health Systems, CVS, MinuteClinic, Rite Aid, NowClinic Online Care, Affordable Care Act

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Dramatic expansion seen for retail clinics

April 30th, 2012

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Retail clinics and big-name medical centers are set for a growth surge, industry experts said at the American Telemedicine Association's annual meeting here this week.

Smartphones, medical centers of excellence, automated clinical labs and digital medical devices will transform retail-affiliated clinics into "ports of entry" for high-quality health care at much lower costs to patients, doctors, employers, governments and insurers, according to Ronald Hammerle, founder and chairman of Health Resources Ltd., and Jay Sanders, a founder of the American Telemedicine Association.

"Clinic retailers like Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Safeway, Kroger, Target and Rite Aid are beginning to see major growth opportunities and new business models that actually make economic sense," according to Hammerle, whose Tampa, Fla.-based firm develops health care systems and solutions.

"Many in the health care field talk about creating 'medical homes,' but fail to recognize that patient homes and well-established channels of service already exist," noted Sanders, chairman of a conference panel and an internationally known pioneer in the field of telemedicine. "Health care providers have largely failed to knock on those doors or use established channels of distribution and low-cost technologies to serve patients better at far lower costs to all."

Leading drug chains Walgreens, through its Take Care Health Systems subsidiary, with over 360 locations, and CVS/pharmacy, through its MinuteClinic unit, with more than 600 locations, dominate the retail health clinic space and have steadily expanded their menu of services, from basic care for common illnesses, injuries and ailments to a broad range of immunizations and preventive health care screenings. Both operators also have indicated that the financial model of retail clinics is taking shape and starting to become a viable business in itself, rather than just a traffic generator for the pharmacy.

Rite Aid, meanwhile, has been piloting a "virtual clinic" service with OptumHealth at stores in the Detroit and Harrisburg, Pa., areas. Called NowClinic Online Care, the web service enables customers engage in face-to-face consultations with doctors — who can discuss symptoms, provide guidance, diagnose and prescribe medications — and interact with OptumHealth nurses, who can provide basic health education and information. Pharmacy staff help people use the system and biometric devices such as an ear thermometer, a scale and a blood pressure cuff. Rite Aid has retail clinics staffed by nurse practitioners in about 15 stores but sees the virtual platform potentially a more financially feasible model.

"The next round of growth will electronically link large numbers of clinics, pharmacies and independently owned and operated primary care clinics to a small number of medical centers of excellence, using telemedicine technologies, computer information and proven systems for branding, management and expansion," explained Hammerle.

"Imagine combining the distribution of global retailers, the branding models of companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Marriott and Century 21, and the clinical knowledge of some of the best physicians in the world," he added. "That's where health care is going, regardless of the fate of the Affordable Care Act in the United States."