Retail and Employer-Based Clinics Will Play Important Role in Healthcare Reform

A panel at the annual meeting of the American Telemedicine Association in San Jose, Calif., this week described retail- and employer- based clinics as major emerging forces in healthcare reform. Panel participants discussed how retail clinics will prosper under reform as low-cost sites and how connecting them with other providers will be critical to reform's goal of care coordination and lower costs.

As employer- and retail-based clinics continue to grow, health IT professionals will be called upon to link their data with other providers. This integration will allow these low-cost providers to connect and collaborate with other providers. "The next round of growth will involve electronically linking thousands of retail clinics, pharmacies and independently-owned and operated primary care offices to a small number of medical centers of excellence using telemedicine technologies and computer information," said Ronald L. Hammerle,  the founder and chairman of Health Resources, a Tampa-based health systems development company.

"Imagine connecting more than 25,000 Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Kroger and Target stores to the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins and other well-known medical centers. Patients could be seen — and see — some of the top experts in the world without ever leaving their hometown and at a fraction of the cost for patients, physicians and third party payors," he added. "Further, such clinics would support, rather than compete with, local primary care physicians and hospitals.”

Jay H. Sanders, MD, one of the founders of the American Telemedicine Association and a pioneer in the field of telemedicine, said these retail and employer clinics and other local primary care providers already fill the role of "medical home" for many people. He questioned why so many health systems are pushing to create their own medical homes rather than establishing channels to better communicate with existing providers.

Additionally, the panel discussed how some states limit the growth of low-cost retail clinics through certificate of need laws.

Toward the end of the panel, the participants discussed the need for reform and noted that it is likely the business community (i.e., employers) will drive reform, rather than health systems themselves. "No industry ever reforms itself. Reform comes from the outside," said Mr. Hammerle. "That is why additional companies like Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Century 21 or Marriott may play a critical role in transforming healthcare, regardless of the fate of the Affordable Care Act in the United States."

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