Retail clinic competition

December 3, 2010

Learn how to stay up with the competition that retail clinics offer to consumers.

Q: Several retail health clinics have opened in our area. We are a primary care practice and have been asked to act as a "back-up" for one of them. Frankly, we don't want to, but we don't know if we have a choice. Many of our patients are visiting this clinic and we feel that we might be left out. What should we do?

A: This is a philosophical and strategic challenge. The first thing to realize is that these services are here to stay. Corporations like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and CVS do not enter a market segment to just try something out. They know that consumers (your patients) want an option for immediate access and a simple track for what they consider, correctly or incorrectly, to be a minor medical care event. From your observation regarding your own patients, you have realized this fact also.

Since you are a primary care practice, you can compete directly with them and aggressively educate your patients that they can obtain the same services from your office that they might be seeking from the retail sites. If you are not sure about competing head-on, then you should consider how to coordinate with them in some way to assure that their patients (and yours) receive the appropriate level of service in the proper medical environment. Simply offering to act as a "back-up" is not an option. More formal policies and procedures must be in place that can allow you to define how and when your services can be engaged. Be sure that roles are defined and that there is an open channel of credible medical information exchange.

Answers to readers' questions were provided by Allison Farey, Wells Fargo Practice Finance, Emeryville, California, and A. Michael La Penna, The La Penna Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Send your practice management questions to medec@advanstar.com