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CVS says MinuteClinics hit 25 million visits as walk-in service takes hold

CVS is planning to open more than 100 new clinics this year and could surpass 1,500 locations by 2017.

Image from CVS Health.

CVS Health this week said its MinuteClinics walk-in retail clinics have seen 25 million visits, suggesting these types of pharmacy-run clinics are not only here to stay, but are becoming a fixture in healthcare.

MinuteClinics have been around for 15 years and were taken over by CVS nine years ago.

CVS Health claims its clinics are the largest and fastest-growing purveyor of retail healthcare, with almost 1,000 locations across 31 states and Washington D.C.

[Also: UnitedHealth's Optum digs in to retail health market]

"We've seen MinuteClinic evolve from a limited service treating just seven acute illnesses to become a high quality healthcare provider that now offers 65 services and vaccinations," said Andrew Sussman, MD, MinuteClinic president and associate chief medical officer at CVS Health. "As we look to the future, we will continue to expand our service offerings."

Sussman said CVS is planning to open more than 100 new clinics this year — recent ones opened in Nebraska, New Mexico and Wisconsin — and could surpass 1,500 locations by 2017.

"The need for more accessible and affordable health care services offered at retail clinics is greater than ever as the medical profession addresses the primary care shortage, changes brought by healthcare reform and the needs of our aging population," Sussman said.

Like other retail clinic operators, CVS has seen MinuteClinic grow in thanks to demand among patients for more convenient options to get basic primary and urgent care treatments — the key factor being convenience, as Stephen Klasko, MD, the CEO of Philadelphia's Jefferson Health argues.

Before walk-in clinics were common in major regions like Philadelphia, “if your kid had an earache you would be told by your pediatrician in many places that we could see you in two days,” Klasko said in a recent interview. “Well by then your kid was either better or had gone to the emergency room.”

[Also: Jefferson chief rolls out ambitious plans]

That notion of convenience has led Klasko to see walk-in clinics as a necessary piece of a regional health system like Jefferson, a five hospital network that after merging with Abington Health counts for walk-in clinic locations. Along with virtual visits that let parents consult a pediatric clinician late at night, for instance, Klasko believes walk-in clinics are needed to offer healthcare options to patients closer to come.

Jefferson, for one, is among a few dozen health systems nationally that have taken up the retail clinic strategy, though in many regions, including Philadelphia, walk-in clinics remain the provenance of private companies.

About 30 percent of the country’s 10,000-plus urgent care and walk-in clinics are owned by corporate firms like CVS or Walgreens or private investors, 20 percent are owned by physicians groups, 14 percent by solo practices, and 25 percent by hospital systems, according to an analysis by Elliott Jeter of VMG. One sign of the corporate interest in walk-in clinics: UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest health insurer, recently spent $1.5 billion to acquire MedExpress Urgent Care, a West Virginia-based operator of 141 clinics in 11 states.

[Also: Whole Foods CEO floats plan to enter healthcare, eyes clinics]

As the owner of one of the original walk-in retail clinics, CVS Health has taken a strategy of operating most MinuteClinics as stand alone operations, but also of collaboration in some areas. CVS has 50 MinuteClinic collaborations with 50 regional hospitals and health systems, which include electronic health record integration.

Among those health systems are Dignity Health, Sharp HealthCare, UCLA Health, the Cleveland Clinic, Henry Ford Health System, Barnabas Health and Dartmouth Hitchcock. “The affiliations encourage collaboration among healthcare providers, CVS pharmacists and MinuteClinic practitioners to improve coordination of care for patients seen at clinic locations,” CVS Health said. 

Twitter: @AnthonyBrino