Retail clinics have both their advocates and their detractors. All in all, it’s something of a sticky issue, burdened with arguments over safety, security and insurance costs.
Supermarkets, however, have made their position clear: They intend to increase their investment in in-store clinics. Just yesterday, Kroger announced a “significant investment” in The Little Clinic, a Nashville, Tennessee-based company that operates walk-in clinics in seven states, and currently has 26 locations inside Kroger stores. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Kroger indicated that it would include a “substantial clinic rollout.”
“More and more, our customers are becoming proactive about managing their health and wellness,” said Donald Becker, executive vice president of merchandising for Kroger, in a statement.
Kroger isn’t the only one meeting this consumer need. Earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced a partnership with the St. Vincent Health System, hoping to operate 400 co-branded clinics by 2010. Other big chains will likely follow.
Consumer support is certainly there. A Harris Interactive/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed that the majority of people are somewhat or very satisfied with the cost (86%), convenience (93%) and medical staff (88%) that retail clinics provide. In addition, the survey found that 78% somewhat or strongly agreed that these clinics provide cost effective care for those who might not be able to afford other healthcare options.
It’s not a perfect system, of course: When to visit a walk-in clinic and when to visit a traditional physician? The choice can sometimes be a blurry one. Sixty five percent of the survey’s respondents said they doubted clinics could accurately diagnose a serious condition. It’s also unclear if and how a patient’s medical information could be passed through the system.
But in a nation where nearly 20% of people are without health insurance, clinics like this are a good start. Retailers like Kroger need to make sure that they advance the issue by balancing the need to expand with the need to provide quality — and innovative — healthcare.