Medical-retail drugstore partnerships strengthen business, promote public health
Friday, August 03, 2018
In the last decade or so, some healthcare providers have partnered with retail drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens to operate storefront health clinics. The clinics can deliver low-cost but high-quality care in a venue that is usually more convenient than a doctor’s office.
The clinics tend to be well-utilized, even if they offer only a relatively narrow set of authorized services for minor ailments, such as a sore throat or ear infection. The clinics are typically open days, evenings and weekends. That’s a key feature.
At those times, the only alternative might be a hospital emergency room. No doubt that’s how the clinics pencil out for both operating partners.
Not surprisingly, considering their new higher profile in local areas, the retail clinics sometimes provide primary prevention and health promotion services including, but not limited to, vaccinations and counseling for smoking cessation, weight loss and overall wellness.
Lately, the partnerships between certain healthcare providers and drug chains have gone a step further. These parties have come together to operate retail urgent care clinics. For example, UnitedHealth Group — perhaps the largest healthcare provider in the world—has partnered with Walgreens.
These urgent care centers generally offer enhancements to retail health clinics, such as the on-site presence of a board-certified physician and/or additional services such as X-rays or laboratory tests of blood, urine, or other bodily fluids or tissues.
As with earlier types of medical-retail drugstore partnerships, this latest incarnation relies on the premise that, if co-located with a branded retail drugstore, an urgent care center can offer faster, more accessible care to the local population.
Understandably, drugstore chains like CVS promote their conviction that retail pharmacies play a critical role in maintaining community health. Certainly they demonstrate as much: CVS boasts more than 60 such retail partnerships across the U.S., as reported by Dr. William Shrank, CVS Health’s chief science officer.
Why does this work? Providers acknowledge that such favorable outcomes, whether for usual or urgent care clinics, rely on the drugstore chains’ data and services.
The chains’ input must sufficiently enhance and simplify the providers’ coordination of care and their attempt to prevent, if not cure, diseases and chronic conditions. Providers now accept that any effort of theirs to actually improve the healthcare of a given local population while reducing costs relies upon such data.
Among other things, a massive amount of pharmacy data is simply required. And so the chains’ unique ability to provide the data is key.
When such data are not accessible, it makes for a terrific blind spot for many health systems. Why? Mainly because the data can improve so-called medication adherence — the taking of medication exactly as prescribed — whether that’s done by giving patients information or feedback directly or by sharing the data with providers for analysis.
The rise of partnered clinics corresponds with the advent of some other helpful impacts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA incentivized insurers, providers and the healthcare industry overall to provide more focused and accessible care for distinct local and/or regional populations at reduced cost — a result now known as value-based care.
This transition has had many facets. Just one of those has been that providers have increasingly partnered with retail pharmacy chains to properly exploit the latter’s data.
For years, health systems had participated in value-based purchasing or contracting, versus providing, arrangements.So they found many of their former profit centers morph into cost centers.
With the passage of the ACA, they turned more readily to more efficient forms of delivery for at least some critical parts of their services. Having refined this realm for years now, health systems can see that a retail presence, such as CVS’s Minute Clinics, is a good idea.
As an example, CVS uses its Epic electronic health record system in its Minute Clinics to send visit summaries, with the patient’s consent, to his or her primary care provider in real time. There are also joint clinical programs between the Minute Clinics and the primary care providers among its health-system affiliates.
CVS checks the blood pressure of all Minute Clinic patients. Those with hypertension are advised to visit their doctors for evaluation and management. Even so, most such problems are followed up in the Minute Clinic.
In this manner, pharmacies connected with health systems can help more and more health care subscribers quickly and conveniently access simple, lower-cost services to keep them whole.
There are a variety of affiliations that retail pharmacies can enact with healthcare providers to achieve this desired goal. That is not a surprise since, manifestly, health systems and pharmacies share the goal of improving patients’ health while controlling costs.
In the new age of value-based care, retail pharmacies and health systems can and should partner with each other — not only to reinforce their strength as business units but to enhance their communities by promoting health in specific local and regional populations.
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