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A Doctor in Every Wal-Mart: What Happened to the Retail Clinic?

A Doctor in Every Wal-Mart: What Happened to the Retail Clinic?

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

Whatever happened to retail health clinics? A few years back, we were hearing optimistic forecasts of a clinic in every Wal-Mart, offering reasonable prices for routine health care and hours convenient for working families.

While the number of such clinics has grown dramatically, from 200 to more than 1,000 between 2006 and 2008, their expansion seems to be leveling off, according to a recent American Medical News story:

In Springfield, Mo., CoxHealth, which opened clinics in five Wal-Mart stores in 2009, had one store reaching 1.9 patients per hour, while most others hadn't reached even one patient per hour.

Clinics have struggled with fluctuations in traffic based on seasons. In March 2009, CVS announced that it was closing 90 MinuteClinic locations for the spring and summer and said they would reopen once the busier fall season arrived. But many of those locations have not reopened.

The hope of retail clinics was that shoppers would become patients, and patients would become shoppers. There is little evidence that is happening. "Store traffic does not equal patient traffic -- no ifs, ands or buts," Charland said.

One surprising reason for some clinics' struggle: retail stores that would not allow them to place signs outside to draw in foot traffic.

It's worth taking a look at the business landscape for retail health clinics in your community. Are they doing well? Suffering in the recession? Do local doctors see them as a competitive threat? If there are fewer people with health insurance in your community, how is that affecting these clinics? What do patients treated by these clinics have to say about their care?

To find clinics operating in your area, check out this list from the industry trade group Convenient Care Association. The association also lists the companies that operate retail clinics here.

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