Kaiser Permanente joining the trend of opening retail clinics to expand care hours and convenience isn't all that noteworthy until you consider that the integrated delivery network will be accepting insurance other than Kaiser Foundation Health Plan for the first time.

Kaiser opened four clinics inside Target stores in southern California as 2014 came to a close. Officials with the IDN say the primary reason for the new strategy is to provide more care options and convenience to its growing membership.

However, it's clear that Kaiser may be up to more than that as it opens its door to the masses for the first time. Now that it's selling insurance to the public on Covered California, the state's health insurance exchange, it needs a marketing strategy to reach those people who may have no familiarity with the Kaiser system.

Non-Kaiser patients will get a glimpse into the organization's telemedicine capabilities patients visiting the clinic can videoconference with a KP physician and experience its electronic medical record system and unique care coordination. Such an opportunity for an up-close look at the IDN could earn KP a host of new insurance plan converts during Covered California open enrollment for 2016, as well as help it gain lives through its employer contracts and from seniors shopping for Medicare Advantage plans.

While KP's effort is still small, the organization could spread the model across the country. Kaiser officials have said they hope eventually to expand it to the other eight states plus the District of Columbia where the health system has a presence. KP's version of the retail clinic is more than just a place to get quick care when you're sick; the HMO is offering pediatric visits, ob/gyn services, management of chronic diseases, and consultations with specialists. These new versions of retail clinics as primary-care homes may become the norm over time as retailers like Wal-Mart open Care Clinics intended to be primary medical providers.

While the highest goal of expanding access to care for KFHP members will most certainly be met by the clinics, Kaiser officials also will likely be watching closely to see if the clinics end up attracting new members.  In addition to KP's recent effort to lower rates of its exchange plans, this retail clinic strategy could give the IDN the kind of members it wants those who are less price sensitive and more committed to the care they're getting from the Kaiser Permanente integrated model.

Follow Jenny Kerr on Twitter @JennyKerrDRG

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