Walgreens Healthcare Clinic: Bridging the Gaps with Diversified Care

Pharmacy Times, January 2015 The Aging Population, Volume 81, Issue 1

Walgreens Healthcare Clinic offers a fresh perspective on retail clinic care.

Walgreens Healthcare Clinic offers a fresh perspective on retail clinic care.

High health care bills and inconvenient scheduling are 2 key reasons why people are flocking to retail clinics instead of their primary care physicians’ offices. Also called convenient care clinics, retail clinics are non—urgent care clinics located within retail stores, most of which also house a pharmacy. Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country, has been in the retail clinic business since 2007. Formerly called Take Care Clinics, there are currently 420 Walgreens Healthcare Clinic locations in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Last year Healthcare Clinic saw its largest expansion to date, with 40 new facilities opening across the country in 2014.

Like most convenient care clinics, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic was designed to focus on wellness and disease prevention through immunizations, health screenings and physicals, and treatment of common illnesses and minor injuries. All Healthcare Clinic locations are staffed by board-certified nurse practitioners and, in some markets, physician assistants, all of whom can treat patients as young as 18 months. Healthcare Clinic hours are not the same as those of Walgreens stores and vary by location, but most locations are open 12 hours on weekdays and 8 hours on weekends, according to Walgreens spokesman James Cohn. Appointments may be scheduled, but walk-ins are allowed.

An Extension of Primary Care

Walgreens is not looking to replace the traditional primary care provider, as some other retail clinics are trying to do. Instead, Healthcare Clinic encourages patients to have a primary care physician and coordinate with local doctors regarding their health and treatment.

“The role of Healthcare Clinic is to serve as an extension of primary care physician practices, and we encourage patients to have a primary care provider they can see routinely for ongoing medical needs and routine exams,” Cohn said. “We aim to help address the growing need for greater access to care by supporting and complementing the work of primary care providers.”

When a patient’s medical needs are beyond the range of treatment provided at the Healthcare Clinic, the patient is referred to his or her primary doctor. If a patient does not have a primary care physician, the nurse practitioners work with collaborating local physicians to recommend one; a follow-up phone call is then made to the patient to verify that supplementary appointments were scheduled. Walgreens Healthcare Clinic also creates an electronic medical record for every patient seen. These records can be shared with primary care physicians or specialists as needed in order to guarantee continuity of care, and they also ensure consecutive coverage at each clinic visit, Cohn explained.

Expanded Services in Long-Term Care Management

As noted, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic is not intended to be a substitute for primary physicians. Nevertheless, it has become the most comprehensive retail clinic in the industry to date. In April 2013, the chain rolled out a broadened range of services, including diagnosis, treatment, and management of chronic conditions, according to a Walgreens press release.

Now, the clinic assesses, treats, and monitors persistent medical issues such as hypertension, diabetes, thyroid disorders, high cholesterol, asthma, and acid reflux. This innovative move caused a shift in retail clinic health care because, until that point, longstanding illnesses were treated at retail clinics only after a diagnosis had been made elsewhere.

“The ability of Healthcare Clinic’s nurse practitioners to treat chronic conditions from assessment to medication prescribing to the ongoing management phase is part of what differentiates our Healthcare Clinic from other retail clinics,” Cohn said.

Moreover, the nurse practitioners at Walgreens Healthcare Clinic can order preventive health screenings and lab tests and then evaluate the results—services that no other retail clinic offers. According to Cohn, Walgreens wanted its nurse practitioners to be able to “practice to the fullest extent of their training and licensure,” and Walgreens is allowing them to do so with these changes.

Based on recent data, patients have enthusiastically accepted the additional amenities. According to a Gallup customer engagement survey published last year, 3 of 4 patients felt fully engaged at Walgreens Healthcare Clinic. Additionally, a Walgreens research study released in July 2014 showed an increase in patient return visits at Healthcare Clinic, from 15% in 2007 to 50% in 2012 and 2013.

Decreased Cost and Increased Experience

Walgreens Healthcare Clinic accepts most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, and even offers select discounts for patients. With prices starting at around $79, the cost of service is less than that of a traditional visit to a primary physician. The price menu is listed in the Healthcare Clinic waiting area and can be found online, so patients who do not have health insurance have no uncertainty about cost prior to their visit.

An added bonus of using Walgreens Healthcare Clinic is that the pharmacist is right there. Because they work alongside nurse practitioners and physician assistants, Walgreens pharmacists “receive some of the best handson training in the industry,” Cohn told Pharmacy Times. Prescriptions written by Healthcare Clinic nurse practitioners or physician assistants can be filled at the patient’s preferred pharmacy. However, Walgreens Healthcare Clinic does not prescribe narcotics or offer chronic pain management.

Expansion in All Ways

Walgreens has no plans to slow down expansion of its convenient care clinics. The company opened 13 clinics in the Dallas metropolitan area in 2014 and plans to open 14 more in the Houston area in 2015, where 15 clinics are already in operation.

“We continue to focus on clinic growth levels by offering increased access to care and an expanding scope of services,” the Walgreens spokesman said.

Walgreens Healthcare Clinic offers a fresh perspective on retail clinic care by providing nearly comprehensive medical care and by cooperating—rather than competing—with primary care physicians. By working to bridge the existing gaps in health care, Walgreens is creating an additional resource for people who need it.

Katrina Rossos is a freelance writer and journalist living in New Jersey. She graduated from Tulane University with a BA in English and Film Studies. Previously an editor for AOL, her work has appeared in New Jersey Life Magazine, Out Town Newspaper, and The Dodo.