In a move mirroring a nationwide trend, New Orleans? leading health system, Ochsner Health, entered into a clinical affiliation with CVS Health in April 2015. The affiliation allows the organizations to share patient information via electronic health records, an exchange that encourages physician and pharmacist collaboration on chronic disease management and medication adherence.
 
Collaboration remains a buzz word in today's era of healthcare reform, and for good reason: It's a necessity. To reduce readmissions and cut down on uncompensated care, providers are attempting all kinds of collaborations. To that end, retail pharmacies and their clinic companions across the country are inking contracts with physicians and health systems.
 
CVS announced its first clinical collaboration in 2009 (with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio). Six years later, the company's affiliation agreements in 25 states are going strong, especially in the Southeast, where the Affordable Care Act is unpopular and Medicaid expansion is strongly opposed by many lawmakers. For example, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's alternative Medicaid expansion program was recently defeated.
 
Residents in these southern states that fall in the coverage gap are facing another year without federal assistance for health insurance costs. As a result, for primary-care needs, a Walgreens down the street may be an affordable option that is more accessible and less time-consuming than a trip to a private physician practice or hospital ER.
 
Healthcare providers are increasingly capitalizing on this behavior by improving their capacity to use shared electronic health records to coordinate care for retail clinic patients. If a pharmacist and physician agree that a patient would benefit from medication counseling or a wellness program, everyone benefits?the patient (specialized attention and improved health), the retail pharmacy and clinic (increased face time with the patient, plus greater adherence to prescription drugs), and of course the physician and any affiliated hospital (referrals from the retail clinic and reduced readmission rates).
 
The clinical affiliations are targeted at large, well-established health systems and provider groups, whose sizeable patient volumes have the potential for the largest savings from population health management. Nashville's largest health system, HCA's TriStar, contracts with CVS; Memphis? second-largest health system, Baptist Memorial, contracts with Walgreens through Baptist Medical Group; Atlanta's second- and third-largest health systems, Emory and WellStar, respectively, contract with CVS and Walgreens, respectfully; Baton Rouge's second-largest physician group, The Baton Rouge Clinic, contracts with CVS; and now, New Orleans? Ochsner also contracts with CVS. 
 
While retail clinics are extending their ties with the Southeast's largest health systems, the smaller ones are facing financial crises responsible for the closure or downsizing of a growing number of hospitals. In Tennessee alone, more than 54 are at-risk of closing, according to the Tennessee Justice Center. Competition for market share is intensifying, and as rapid consolidation in hot spots like Atlanta continues, long-term survival of an independent physician practice or smaller hospital will depend on its ability to innovate and remain cost-conscious all at once. With retail clinic affiliations seemingly reserved for the larger players, the smaller ones may increasingly find support in clinically integrated networks like MissionPoint Health Partners and the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network in the Nashville market.
 
At the same time, keep a close eye on retail clinics as they increasingly become ?in-network? providers for national payers. Even before the implementation of the ACA, CVS/minuteclinic was in-network for a number of health insurers across the U.S. Today, the retail clinic chain contracts with more than 275 health insurers, including its June 2015 contract with Molina Healthcare in Ohio. That number is expected to grow as CVS/minuteclinic continues to carve out its relevance as a national healthcare provider. After all, the neighborhood clinic is only growing in popularity, having recently surpassed 25 million patient visits since its first patient in 2000. It intends to open an additional 500 clinics by 2017. With a clear trajectory of growth, CVS/minuteclinic and other retail clinics may be shifting the power dial more in their favor. In time, it may not be as noteworthy which payer contracts with retail clinics, but which payer does not. 
 
For more information on the convenient care industry and healthcare developments in the Southeast, follow Michelle on Twitter: @mlavoneDRG.

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