“Retailization” Of Primary Care

April 14, 2021

Gaining access to the health care services and products one needs can be inconvenient, expensive, or downright impossible. In order to combat this, a number of retail companies (e.g., Target, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS) have started offering a variety of medical services inside their stores. With walk-in availability, short wait-times, extended hours, and transparent pricing, these “retail clinics” aim to remove many of the barriers that stand in the way of those seeking adequate preventive care and treatment.

Since their inception in 2001 with the opening of CVS’s first Minute-Clinic, much has been learned about the effects of retail clinics on the accessibility of health care. For example, according to a survey conducted by RAND Corporation, retail clinics have proven most attractive to adults between the ages of 18 and 44 without a primary care physician. Additionally, while many assumed that retail clinics would reduce unnecessary emergency department or physician visits for less severe conditions like colds and sore throats, RAND’s study revealed the opposite to be the case. Specifically, they found that 58% of all visits to retail clinics were made by patients seeking care for conditions that they would otherwise not have taken care of at a different type of medical facility like an emergency room or physician’s office. This suggests that retail clinics are in fact making certain kinds of healthcare services more accessible, especially for those who are prone to only seek walk-in treatments.

In an effort to further increase access to health care services, CVS launched their first HealthHUB in 2019. These stores expand on the range of ailments that retail clinics typically handle by covering chronic but avoidable conditions with a special emphasis of behavioral health in select locations. As Cara McNulty, who oversees the behavioral health strategy for CVS notes in an interview with Employee Benefit News:

The traditional mental health care system is complex, and it can be very difficult to access. […] People have to wait weeks to get in and they don't know where to go. We’re taking that confusion out of it.

 

HealthHUBs accomplish this by allowing anyone to connect directly with a clinical social worker, either virtually or in person, who will assess their symptoms, help them understand available resources, and write referrals to specialists. For those experiencing the motivational deficits that often come with prolonged stress and anxiety, the removal of wait times and the need to make an appointment may be just what they need to make seeking help seem doable. At a time when seven out of 10 workers are reporting that this past year “was the most stressful time of their entire professional career,” this service has the potential to have a significant impact on workplace wellness.

 

Takeaways

Use retail clinics to save money: HealthHUBs are another indication that the "retailization" of medicine is not slowing down. Over the next few years, we can expect more retailers to hop on the train and to offer even more services than are currently covered by extant retail clinics. This may drastically change the health care landscape in the US which in turn may impact the kinds of health plans you wish to offer your workforce.

Many employers tried to address the benefits of improved access to healthcare by offering on-site and near-site clinics for employees. Only large employers could afford to offer this benefit, and given the rise of remote and flexible work, it is unclear whether or not this trend will continue. Employers may rely on “retailization” to address this need without having to manage the capital requirements of launching an in-house clinic or the challenges of a distributed workforce.

Employers have also tried to address the problem of the inaccessibility of healthcare by hosting health fairs, which allow employees to meet with wellness experts and learn about the benefits that are available to them. HealthHUBs may lessen the financial burden of hosting these events by providing some of the services that are typically included in them. More specifically, according to CVS Health, inside each HealthHUB, “wellness rooms are available for CVS professionals and community partners to host group events, including health classes, nutritional seminars and benefits education.” When hosting your next health fair, be sure to see what is already provided by local retail clinics so that you can avoid paying for services that are already readily available to your workforce.

Keep your employees informed: With plans to have 1,500 HealthHUBs locations operating by the end of 2021, one may soon be arriving in an area near your workforce. Keep them up to date so that they are able to make use of this service as soon as it is available to them.


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