Increasingly, a trip to the local drugstore offers another option besides buying cold remedies, hair care products or energy drinks.
Add medical care to the list.
On Wednesday, Rhode Island-based MinuteClinic opened its first two walk-in medical clinics in the Sacramento region, both inside CVS pharmacies. Patients can see a licensed nurse practitioner for treatment of minor ailments, aches and pains; get a vaccination; have their blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes checked; or complete their child’s school, camp or sports-required physicals.
Walk-in health care clinics in retail stores and pharmacies such as Walmart, Target and RiteAid are another layer of health care delivery that goes beyond standard doctor’s office visits or doctor-staffed urgent care sites. And with millions more Americans getting health care coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act this year, there’s more demand for services.
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“More patients are out there seeking care,” Jon Colbert, area director of MinuteClinic’s western region, said Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting at a new clinic on Florin Road. “The Affordable Care Act has created millions of newly insured patients.”
MinuteClinic, a division of CVS Caremark Corp., is one of the largest players and a pioneer in retail walk-in health care clinics since its inception in 2000. Its 850 centers, which operate exclusively inside CVS pharmacies, are in 29 states and the District of Columbia. MinuteClinic entered the Southern California market in 2007 and now has 50 clinics statewide.
There are nearly a dozen similar providers of walk-in clinics, with names like RediClinic and FastCare. By the end of 2014, the number of clinics nationwide is projected to reach 3,200, more than double the 2013 total, according to a report last year by Stephanie Watson, executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
Consumers appear to be embracing the so-called “nurse-in-a-box” option. Nationwide, the number of visits to walk-in clinics inside U.S. stores, pharmacies and supermarkets soared from nearly 1.5 million in 2007 to more than 10 million in 2012, according to Watson’s report.
Dr. Tim Schmidt, a former Southern California physician who is now MinuteClinic’s western region medical director, said that about half of MinuteClinic patients are deemed “medically homeless”: those who do not have a primary care physician, recently moved to an area or are young adults who have not yet considered long-term health care.
Schmidt says many MinuteClinic patients need care for medical concerns that pop up outside a regular physician’s office hours. “The physician’s office is closed … and they end up coming here. Fifty percent (of patients) come during evenings or on the weekend.”
The newly opened MinuteClinic outlets – at 1350 Florin Road in Sacramento and 5040 Laguna Blvd. in Elk Grove – are open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends. A third MinuteClinic is scheduled to open in Fair Oaks at 8101 Greenback Lane in October.
At the clinics, “nationally certified” nurse practitioners can diagnose, treat and write prescriptions for common health problems, including strep throat, minor cuts, rashes and joint sprains, as well as infections of the eyes, ears, sinuses, bladder and airways.
No appointments are required, and officials said most services start at $79. The company says most major health insurance plans are accepted, but patients can also pay in cash or credit cards.
MinuteClinic’s concept is not entirely unique in the Sacramento area.
Sutter Care Express operates three seven-days-a-week, no-appointment centers inside Rite Aid stores at 2751 Del Paso Road in Natomas, 980 Florin Road in Sacramento and 4004 Foothills Blvd. in Roseville.
WalMart has walk-in medical clinics in only two California stores, but none in this region, according to the company’s website.
MinuteClinic officials on Wednesday stressed that their clinics deal with routine medical problems and can link drop-in patients with nearby primary care physicians who are accepting patients. Records of patient treatment at MinuteClinics can be mailed, electronically transmitted or faxed to physicians, officials said.
Schmidt characterized MinuteClinic’s role as “complementary” and “supportive” of primary care physicians.