CVS/minuteclinic opened its 1,000th retail clinic last week in the market where the company has the most locations: Washington, D.C. The big-scissors moment reinforces its position as the largest retail clinic operator. By 2017, CVS/minuteclinic plans to have 1,500 locations, and its nearest competitor, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic, is lagging well behind with 400 locations nationwide.
CVS is only strengthening its lead by acquiring Target’s pharmacy and retail clinic business, a $1.9 billion move that will land it at least 80 more clinics plus an entrance into Virginia.
Walgreens’ growth strategy is focused on capitalizing on its partnerships with leading health systems nationwide. In August, Walgreens announced it was teaming up with Washington-based Providence Health & Services to open 25 new clinics in the Pacific Northwest, which is uncharted territory for the retailer. Under that deal, Walgreens will provide the physical space for Providence and its affiliated mid-level providers to operate the clinics but will be connected to them through an electronic health record. Walgreens will benefit from brand visibility and pharmaceutical sales, and Providence will benefit from a steady flow of referrals.
This connection with an integrated delivery network like Providence may allow these new clinics to provide coordinated care rather than fragmented medical services that have long been a criticism of the retail clinic industry. These type of arrangements may also position Walgreens to open additional clinics at an increasing pace.
If opponents are concerned that patient utilization of retail clinics compromises care coordination, then using the retail clinics as the mudroom for the larger health systems could help appease them. Patients who come to the 25 clinics, branded as Providence Express Care at Walgreens or Swedish Express Care at Walgreens, may find the clinic feels more like a primary-care office, with familiar faces and a network of specialists to treat more complex conditions. Of course, the clinics are not intended to replace care received by primary-care physicians, and Providence can expect to see an increased patient base from those without an already established family doctor.
This venture could foreshadow similar collaborations with other major health systems nationwide. But it is not without risks. Walmart used a similar model that took a nose dive several years ago, though that could largely be attributed to engaging in too many different affiliations. Walgreens, rather than partnering with many health systems and physician groups—all with different management cultures and specialties—is taking a more narrow approach with Providence. Furthermore, Walgreens has alreadyestablished its presence in the retail clinic sector, unlike Walmart.
It should also be noted that CVS is no stranger to clinical affiliations with other healthcare organizations. CVS has nearly 70 of these affiliations compared to Walgreens’ 22. The CVS model is also different in that it directly operates and owns all of its clinics.
The milestone of CVS/minuteclinic’s 1,000th clinic is a big one, with reverberations felt throughout the healthcare industry as providers adapt to what consumers increasingly want: convenience and medical services on demand. At the same time, retail clinics know they must increasingly compete not only on geographic scale but also quality of services. Clinical affiliations are an attempt to preserve at least a bit of fidelity between patients and providers, while Walgreens’ 2016 venture with Providence might prove to be a long-lasting union improving drug sales, patient and consumer flow, and disease management. CVS may well surpass its 1,500-clinic target by 2017, but something more noteworthy could be the success of the partnerships and alliances it, and its main competitor Walgreens, are inking to help shift America’s delivery of care.