Got a minute? Get a shot

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by Marjolijn Bijlefeld

A Harvard Business School professor coined the phrase disruptive technology. It describes an innovation that unexpectedly replaces an existing technology. In health care, that disruptive technology might be the sudden rise of retail-based clinics, also known as the convenience care outlets of medicine.

Fueled by consumer demand for extended office hours, frustration with long waits and the sense that stopping in for a flu shot should be convenient, several companies are opening drop-in clinics in retail stores or pharmacies, and they’ve started cropping up in Virginia. Nine RediClinics have opened in Richmond area Wal-Marts, and the first Minute Clinics, owned by CVS, opened in a CVS pharmacy in Leesburg.

These retail health-care locations are typically open seven days a week. They’re staffed by nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants and offer a limited menu of primary-care services including flu shots and other vaccines and the diagnosis and treatment of common illnesses. At a RediClinic, the focus is on 30 common ailments (think ear, nose and throat) such as a cold, the flu and strep throat. RediClinics also offer sports physicals and certain screening tests.

Prices at the clinics aren’t bad and may be lower than some patients’ deductibles. At the Richmond-area RediClinics, patients can get a physical exam for $49. Periodically there are specials, like a recent one that offered women seven vital tests for $15. The clinics accept insurance plans from several major groups and recently started taking Medicare.

Convenience is a big plus, says Kevin Riley, RediClinic’s vice president of business development and employee sales. “We offer 30-minute patient treatment from the time you walk in until you walk out with a prescription, compared with a national average of a two and a half hour wait for a visit to a traditional doctor’s office.” Riley says RediClinic is eager to work with employers to devise custom preventative packages for employees designed to lower health-care costs.

In Richmond, Bon Secours Richmond Health System has partnered with RediClinic to provide physician oversight to the nurse practitioners. RediClinic was founded in 1989 as InterFit Health. Based in Houston, its largest investor is Revolution Clinics, an affiliate of the Revolution Health Group, a company created by AOL co-founder Steve Case. The group is providing the capital to support the national rollout of RediClinic LLC.

Physicians, typically, are not enamored with these clinics because they compete directly for their patients. The American Medical Association has created nine principles by which retail-based clinics should abide. These include letting patients know the scope and limitations of the practitioner, referring patients to community-based physicians for follow-up care and encouraging patients to form a relationship with a primary-care physician.

But physician groups and hospitals have also seen the writing on the wall.

Hospital- and physician-owned urgent-care clinics are opening around the state. Some are open just in the evenings or on weekends with physicians on staff to see patients.

Who knows, the traditional doctor’s office schedule of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. may become as uncommon as the house call.

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