Business: Walgreens leads retail medicine wave

By Kris B. Mamula, Reporter, Pittsburgh Business Times

AUGUST 5, 2013 – You are forgiven if you somehow missed this, but Walgreens now calls the walk-in medical centers at its 370 pharmacies Healthcare Clinics.

Previously, they were called Take Care Clinics, an in-store service that began in 2004 for treating things like sore throats and sprained ankles. A whole lot has changed since then, both within Walgreens and the retail medicine industry.

Last month, the second-biggest clinic operator added concussion education as part of its back to school and sports physicals and in April, the company became the first retail store chain to diagnose and treat chronic conditions such as asthma, high cholesterol and diabetes. If that sounds like primary care that’s because it is, or at least it’s a step closer to what happens at your primary care doctor’s office.

“They’re demonstrating a fair amount of leadership,” said Tom Charland, CEO of Minneapolis-based Merchant Medicine. “All retail operators will get there eventually.”

Medicine is all about squeezing cost of the system these days and that’s retail medicine’s big draw: retail clinics can handle many of the problems seen in hospital emergency rooms at a fraction of the cost – $60 versus $445, according to the Convenient Care Association, a Philadelphia-based trade group.

So here’s the take-home message. Health care reform is expected to double the number of retail clinics by 2015, according to a study by New York-based consultant Accenture. The expansion is expected to result in $800 million in annual cost savings by 2015 and add capacity for 10.8 million patient visits per year compared to 5.1 million visits in 2011.

Retail medicine has “absolutely” arrived, Charland said.

Kris Mamula covers health care, insurance and employee benefits for the Pittsburgh Business Times. Contact him at or 412-208-3825.

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