Those grocery store health clinics are providing needed, quality care – Chicago Tribune

American health care is steeped in regulations and practices that make it difficult to improve access. Compared to other developed countries, American patients are served less, charged more and are at higher risk of not getting the care they need.

Some improvements are obvious. States should continue to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, for example, and the federal government should address the physician shortage by lowering barriers to foreign-trained doctors.

One idea that practically didn’t make the list of health care reform opportunities: consolidation. Mergers and acquisitions generally have a bad name – in the medical world. This has resulted in fewer hospital systems and other companies providing the services, and fewer insurers to pay the bills. Mergers are regularly blamed for reducing competition, raising costs for consumers, and limiting access to life-saving products and services over time.

Yet not every health care deal is automatically bad, and Chicago may be the setting for a good deal in a rapidly growing segment of the industry that needs to scale up to achieve its potential to reach populations the wanted.

Chicago-based VillageMD (its main office is in the South Loop), backed by Walgreens, has agreed to pay about $9 billion for Summit Health, which runs CityMD. The deal follows announcements from retailing rivals CVS, Walmart and Amazon, which are expanding their health care capabilities through acquisitions and internal investments.

Speed ​​is building. For two decades, large retail chains have invested heavily in providing convenient and efficient health care. Located in pharmacies, grocery stores and “big-box” stores, networks such as CVS’ MinuteClinics provide care from nurse practitioners or physician assistants for relatively minor health problems. Patients can come in the evening or on weekends, times when most people don’t have to leave work knowing how much a visit will cost.

At the same time, chains are de-emphasizing primary care for more serious conditions, making physicians available in stand-alone outlets or through telephone and virtual appointments.

Dedicating more retail space to personal health and wellness makes sense for brick-and-mortar chains, as consumers increasingly shop online for pharmaceuticals, groceries, diapers, makeup, and the like. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend, and also made it clear that large retailers providing millions of vaccines have become critical in providing care.

The US primary care market is said to be approximately $260 billion, and it is understandable that treating patients like shoplifters does not sit well with the US medical establishment. For years doctors’ groups have questioned whether retail-owned clinics and offices reduce quality of care, overprescribe antibiotics or disrupt the doctor-patient relationship.

Research shows that the worst fears are unfounded.

Conversely, by providing same-day appointments after work or when not far from home on the weekend, retailers are reaching many patients who would otherwise skip the service entirely. Retail health care attracts younger-than-average patients who often do not have regular primary care providers. Service quality is generally similar compared to other settings and increasingly, retail chains are partnering with hospitals and health systems.

When retail health care was booming two decades ago, some analysts thought it would result in lower costs, fewer emergency room visits and greater access to poor and rural areas where care is scarce. Those benefits have not been realized to the expected extent.

There is some evidence that overall costs are higher, mainly because more patients who would otherwise not receive a service are now receiving it – a positive development in our view. Furthermore, so far growth has been concentrated in relatively affluent urban areas, and the rate of emergency room visits that are not true emergencies hasn’t changed much because of these new options.

give it time.

Consumers want more choice about where to get help when they need it, and the potential for growth is huge. A recent report from financial giant Bain & Company predicts that non-traditional companies could capture as much as one-third of the US primary care market by 2030. With the expansion of virtual care, including telemedicine and other rapidly growing technologies, the long-standing gap is finally being filled.

The Village MD claims that health care costs generally increase because a much higher percentage of resources are being allocated to reducing the effects of chronic conditions and a much lower percentage to preventing them from occurring in the first place. being done. We expect this Chicago company, and other innovative retail players like it, to lead the way in opening new locations, creating new deals and expanding the services it offers to consumers.

The result, we believe, will be more and better care for Americans in the future.

Join the discussion on Twitter @chitribopinions and on Facebook,

Submit a letter to the editor of no more than 400 words Here or email [email protected],

Leave a Comment