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Retail health clinics carve out convenient niche

Short wait times and affordable prices are two of the reasons patients are stopping into retail health clinics for minor afflictions or checkups.

Large retail chains are devoting space in their stores to offer convenient healthcare services to patients and create a new revenue stream for their business. Many people either have been treated in or are familiar with retail health clinics. They draw in patients because of their short wait times and affordability and their in-store location -- which allows patients to shop while they wait for their appointment.

Retail clinics fill a small gap in the marketplace. For patients with common illnesses, a quick trip to a retail clinic after work or an e-visit is more convenient than visiting a traditional medical practice. There are a number of other advantages that retail clinics advertise to potential customers.

Financial incentive

Large retail chains can offer competitive prices for patient visits. The cost of running a retail clinic is significantly lower than that of opening a new medical practice or standalone clinic. Retail clinics that advertise their price point are likely to find success in rural areas or in areas that have a significantly higher population of low-income families. The discounted fee can be justified by the cost of the merchandise that patients purchase while waiting for their prescription. That is a scenario that benefits both patient and retailer.

Locations and patient access

Retail chains are already established in many different cities throughout the country. This provides healthcare providers with a ready-made location for a new retail clinic. It's also convenient for patients because they aren't forced to go out of their way to get a routine checkup or flu shot. Many retail health clinics offer extended hours, which presents a great alternative to patients who don't want to visit the emergency room or urgent care after hours.

Telehealth and pharmacy services

For some retailers, a small clinic is only the first step in their plan to offer a wider array of healthcare services. Retail giant Walmart is one example. The big-box chain has begun to include videoconferencing and telehealth as part of a new slate of patient care services. If patients do decide to make a visit to the store to see their provider, they can also pick up prescriptions in the same location because the majority of retail clinics also have a pharmacy in the same building.


Local hospitals and specialists can form partnerships and take referrals from local retail outlets. Some employers might also be incentivized by their health plan providers to direct their employees to use retail clinics for routine illnesses and disease management to help reduce their overall healthcare costs.

Large retailers have experienced some success by moving into the healthcare services space, but many independent physicians and specialists recognize that these clinics provide only basic services to patients and are likely to refer complex cases to physicians' practices.

That's a double-edged sword: We have heard family docs and other primary-care physicians on the health IT conference circuit lament the existence of these upstart retail clinics, because they take the quick "cough and sore throat" visits away from their case mixes, leaving them with longer, more complicated patient visits that drain away income because it raises the time per patient visit and lowers the number of patients a doc can see in a day.

But the referral business could benefit some physicians, as medical and imaging equipment and imaging are a few of the devices retailers can't fit into their locations.

Though it's unclear what the continued existence of retail clinics means for the number of patients and the revenue pulled in by traditional doctors' offices, it appears these clinics will be involved in referrals and will likely offer more health services over time.

Additional reporting provided by Don Fluckinger, SearchHealthIT news director.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email
editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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