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In-store pharmacy health clinics to expand presence, offering "drive-through" disease diagnosis, pharmaceutical sales

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: pharmacies, drug marketing, health news

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(NewsTarget) The number of walk-in health clinics inside retail stores such as CVS, Target, Walgreens and Wal-Mart is set to quadruple by the end of 2008, drawing controversy from physicians' groups. The retail clinics offer certain key advantages over visits to doctors' offices or emergency rooms, including lower and clearly posted prices, shorter wait times and longer hours than a normal doctor's office. However, most of them rely on family nurse practitioners and have no physician on site. In addition, the American Medical Association and other doctors' groups have accused the clinics of a conflict of interest, because they write prescriptions that can then be filled by the pharmacy in the hosting store.

Doctors have also warned that the relationship between physician and patient could be threatened as the retail clinics become more popular.

Big Pharma critic Mike Adams calls the practice, "Drive-By Medicine," and says that such clinics have a clear financial incentive to find something wrong with patients in order to sell them more drugs. "In-store clinics are customer recruitment stations, not health care centers. They exist solely for the purpose of boosting retail revenues by diagnosing more patients with yet more health conditions, then directing them to purchase high-profit prescription drugs all under the same roof," Adams said.

There are currently an estimated 500 walk-in health clinics in the United States. That number is expected to increase to 700 by the end of 2007 and 2,000 by the end of 2008. Approximately seven percent of U.S. residents have visited one of these clinics, according to retail clinics' group Convenient Care Association.

According to Dr. Rick Kellerman, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the clinics are indeed a problem, but they are only one symptom of an inherently flawed national health-care system. "The clinics are one response. They are not an answer," he said, encouraging doctors to reevaluate their own practices.

According to Wal-Mart spokesperson Deisha Galberth, approximately 50 percent of those visiting Wal-Mart clinics are uninsured. According to Sandy Ryan, chief nurse practitioner for Take Care Health clinics, 30 percent of Take Care Health's patients are uninsured and 30 percent have no primary care physician.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 20 percent of U.S. residents live in areas without good access to primary medical care. This shortage of doctors is expected to increase to 200,000 by 2020.

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