Retail Clinics Expanding Nationwide
One of the leading operators of retail health clinics nationwide, MedBasics, announced on May 22 an agreement with USA Drug to open five additional retail clinics in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee by the end of this year.
Under the agreement, MedBasics and USA Drug--a chain based in Pine Bluff, Arkansas with 150 outlets in southern states--will open 60 clinics over the next three years. The first in-store clinic is scheduled to open in Little Rock, Arkansas this summer. MedBasics expects to have 500 clinics operating nationwide by 2010.
The year-old corporation based in Irving, Texas offers fast, convenient, affordable treatment for routine health conditions, as well as preventive care. Its clinics are staffed by licensed nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, who are licensed to write prescriptions and make referrals for serious medical conditions.
"We are pleased to have MedBasics help us create a one-stop health and wellness destination for our patients," said Mark McGrew, USA Drug's senior vice president of pharmacy, in a news release. "MedBasics offers a convenient and affordable way to access medical services, especially when our customers' own doctors' offices are closed, or when a costly trip to the emergency room seems their only option."
MedBasics clinics' fees are up to 89 percent lower than in traditional medical practices. This enables patients--particularly the uninsured--to receive affordable health care services. According to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in August 2006--the most recent report available--46.6 million Americans lacked insurance at some point during the year.
Steve Buckstein, senior policy analyst and founder of the Cascade Policy Institute, a free-market think tank in Portland, Oregon, said expanding retail clinics is good for the consumer-driven health care movement.
"Providing more locations and choices for health care consumers is a positive thing," Buckstein said. "If these clinics are operated by nurse practitioners or medical personnel other than MDs, the cost savings to consumers may also be beneficial."
Buckstein said retail clinics contribute to public health in at least positive ways: by providing more convenience for patients, by giving patients quicker access to health care, and by offering treatment at a lower cost.
The American Medical Association is leery of retail clinics, calling for greater oversight from the medical community, since most clinics are not staffed by medical doctors.
But Joseph D. Coletti, a fiscal and health care policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina, said that's not a valid concern.
"The convenience benefits outweigh whatever small risks there may be from these clinics," Coletti said. "They're not performing surgery or putting arms in casts. They're providing valuable services for busy people."
"[There is] no hazard as long as the clinics' and practitioners' credentials are properly disclosed to patients so they can make their own determinations about how appropriate the care will be," Buckstein said, adding that less regulation and more consumer choice are generally good for patients.
"Patients should have the right to seek treatment from practitioners with less than an M.D. degree, as long as the level of expertise is disclosed to the patients," Buckstein said.
Dr. Sanjit Bagchi (email@example.com) writes from India.