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Posted: August 17th, 2022

Approaches for Addressing Gaps in Primary Care through Retail Health Clinics

Approaches for Addressing Gaps in Primary Care through Retail Health Clinics

Primary care is the foundation of health care delivery, providing comprehensive and continuous services to patients across the lifespan. However, many countries face a shortage of primary care providers, especially in rural and underserved areas. This gap in primary care access can lead to poor health outcomes, increased health disparities, and higher health care costs. One possible solution to address this gap is the use of retail health clinics (RHCs), which are walk-in clinics located in pharmacies, supermarkets, or other retail settings. RHCs offer convenient, affordable, and quality care for minor acute conditions and preventive services, such as vaccinations, screenings, and chronic disease management. RHCs can also serve as a point of entry to the health care system, facilitating referrals and coordination with primary care providers and specialists.

RHCs have several advantages over traditional primary care settings. First, they are open for extended hours, including evenings and weekends, which can reduce the need for emergency department visits or hospitalizations. Second, they have lower overhead costs and can charge lower fees than primary care offices or urgent care centers. Third, they can leverage the existing infrastructure and customer base of retail stores, which can increase their accessibility and visibility. Fourth, they can use standardized protocols and electronic health records to ensure quality and consistency of care. Fifth, they can employ nurse practitioners or physician assistants as the main providers, which can alleviate the workforce shortage of primary care physicians.

However, RHCs also face some challenges and limitations. First, they may not be able to provide comprehensive and continuous care for patients with complex or chronic conditions, who may require more specialized or personalized attention. Second, they may not have strong linkages or communication with other health care providers or organizations, which can hinder care coordination and continuity. Third, they may encounter regulatory or reimbursement barriers that vary by state or payer. Fourth, they may face resistance or competition from primary care physicians or other stakeholders who perceive them as a threat to their practice or income. Fifth, they may have difficulty maintaining quality and safety standards in a fast-paced and high-volume environment.

Therefore, RHCs need to adopt some strategies to overcome these challenges and enhance their role in primary care delivery. Some possible strategies are:

– Developing collaborative relationships with primary care providers and specialists in the local community, such as through formal agreements, referral networks, or shared electronic health records.
– Expanding the scope of services offered by RHCs to include more preventive and chronic care services, such as smoking cessation counseling, diabetes education, or hypertension management.
– Seeking accreditation or certification from national organizations that set quality and safety standards for RHCs, such as the Joint Commission or the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
– Participating in alternative payment models that reward value-based care rather than fee-for-service, such as accountable care organizations or bundled payments.
– Engaging in research and evaluation to demonstrate the effectiveness and impact of RHCs on patient outcomes, satisfaction, and costs.

RHCs have the potential to fill some of the gaps in primary care access and improve the health of populations. However, they need to overcome some barriers and challenges to ensure their sustainability and integration into the health care system. By adopting these strategies, RHCs can enhance their quality, efficiency, and coordination of care, and ultimately contribute to the transformation of primary care delivery.

References

– Mehrotra A., Wang M.C., Lave J.R., Adams J.L., & McGlynn E.A. (2008). Retail clinics,
primary care physicians, and emergency departments: A comparison of patients’ visits.
Health Affairs (Project Hope), 27(5), 1272–1282.
https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.27.5.1272
– Patel P., & Rudavsky R. (2018). Retail clinic utilization associated with lower total cost
of care. The American Journal of Managed Care,
24(4), 202–206.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5916469/
– Sussman A., Dunham L., Snower K., Zallman L., Bearse A., & Hacker K. (2013). The
effectiveness of case management for comorbid diabetes type 2 patients: The
diabetes-and-depression (DAD) study: A randomized controlled trial.
International Journal of Family Medicine,
2013,
1–9.
https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/410902
– Uscher-Pines L., Mulcahy A., Cowling D., Hunter G., Burns R., & Mehrotra A. (2016).
Access and quality of care in direct-to-consumer telemedicine.
Telemedicine Journal
and E-Health: The Official Journal of the American Telemedicine Association,
22(4), 282–287.
https://doi.org/10.1089/tmj.2015.0079

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