Doctors with Columbia's MedStar Health soon will provide urgent care services at area Rite Aid stores, through a partnership the organizations plan to announce today.
Starting this summer, MedStar PromptCare clinics will roll out in four drugstores, two in the Baltimore region and two in the Washington area. The companies hope to add 12 more programs nationwide after studying results of the pilot program.
"Health care has been late to having a consumer focus, and consumers are increasingly demanding service in a variety of settings that are much more convenient," said Eric R. Wagner, a senior vice president of managed care for MedStar, a nonprofit. "We're taking health care to a place where consumers already are."
Such convenience-care clinics have mushroomed since their modest beginnings in Minnesota in 2000. Today, more than 800 such clinics exist across the country in places such as Target and Walgreens, and that number is expected to nearly double by the end of the year, according to industry trade group Convenient Care Association, or CCA. Most are staffed by nurse practitioners, or physician's assistants, with doctor oversight because it is less expensive and there is a shortage of doctors.
"The shortage of certain family physicians is what's really driven this model," said Tine Hansen, CCA's executive director.
But MedStar's clinics will be doctor-run, a relative rarity, and therefore able to provide more specialized urgent care, in addition to treating sore throats and other minor ailments.
"It's meant to be an urgent-care situation, your alternative to an emergency department," said Dr. James A. D'Orta, chief executive of Consumer Health Services Inc. His company arranged, and plans to manage, the partnership.
"They're obviously not treating major issues - heart attacks or bleeding. They're treating your garden-variety acute care," he said. Think of it as "urgent care light."
D'Orta said prices will be lower at the clinics than in emergency rooms, and he plans to arrange contracts with most major insurance providers, including Medicare.
Doctors and medical groups have railed against the nurse-practitioner-clinic model, concerned about increased competition and quality-of-care issues. Last year, the American Medical Association asked for legislation to regulate such clinics.
Proponents of nurse-practitioner-run clinics say they provide accessible care for many of the population's minor - but prevalent - ailments and serve a purpose.
"We're part of the health care team," said Mary Jo Goolsby, director of research and education at the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. "Nurse practitioners take care of acute minor illnesses, but we also have long taken care of complex chronic conditions," such as heart disease and diabetes.
"We have the ability to recognize when something else is indicated and know when further" care should be recommended, Goolsby said. "There is a huge body of evidence that has looked at the quality of care provided by nurse practitioners, and it's considerably demonstrated that we provide safe, efficient, cost-effective care of high quality."
Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced education, most often a master's degree, and training. They can write prescriptions and diagnose ailments such as strep throat, ear infections and skin rashes.
The PromptCare clinics will offer an electronic medical record that patients can take with them and syncronize with MedStar Health's network of eight hospitals - including Union Memorial, Good Samaritan, Franklin Square and Harbor in the Baltimore area - so that patient information is easily exchanged.
"These in-store health clinics offer services that complement the medication counseling and care provided by our pharmacists," Mark de Bruin, Rite Aid executive vice president of pharmacy services, said in a statement.
Rite Aid has more than 5,000 drugstores in 31 states. The organizations declined to say which stores would house PromptCare clinics, which will likely keep the same hours as the pharmacy departments.