After opening two clinics in retail stores this spring, Allina Health System has plans for four more by March as part of a broader effort to make it easier for patients to get quick care for basic ailments.
In a financial statement this month, Minneapolis-based Allina disclosed the expansion plans, which will feature clinics inside Hy-Vee grocery stores that treat a limited set of health problems.
While retail clinics have been around for more than a decade, health systems across the country are giving the clinics a new look as health insurers continue pushing for changes in how they pay doctors and hospitals for medical services, said Tom Charland of Merchant Medicine LLC, a Shoreview-based group that tracks the retail clinic market.
“Large health systems such as Allina are recognizing that this is going to be the future,” Charland said of new payment terms from insurers that are often described as “value-based care” contracts. “Therefore, there’s renewed interest in retail clinics as a platform to deliver certain services at a lower cost.”
In April, Allina announced it would open its new Allina Health Everyday Clinics inside grocery stores in Eagan and Lakeville. A retail clinic is coming to Robbinsdale in September, followed by new clinics planned for Brooklyn Park, Faribault and New Hope by March 2019, said Dave Slowinske, the senior vice president of operations at Allina Health Group, in a Tuesday interview.
Clinics are staffed with nurse practitioners or physician assistants who treat minor illnesses ranging from strep throat to colds and offer a variety of services like vaccine injections and sports physicals. The clinics will use an electronic health record that also has information about patient care from other Allina hospitals and clinics.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time listening to consumers and what we’re hearing from them is that they increasingly are looking for affordable, accessible, tailored health care services [close] to where they live, work and shop in their everyday lives,” Slowinske said. “We’re looking to really build out a portfolio of consumer-oriented, clinically integrated service offerings.”
Small retail clinics that care for a limited set of ailments is a made-in-Minnesota innovation launched at a grocery store in the Twin Cities in 2000. The company that opened the first retail clinic eventually became known as MinuteClinic, which was based in Minneapolis before being acquired by CVS in 2006 for $170 million.
They are touted as a cheaper alternative to hospital emergency rooms, but some researchers have questioned the claim. A 2016 study suggested the clinics actually can contribute to overall spending by making it easier for people to obtain services.
The Twin Cities remains a market with a lot of retail clinics, Charland said. While Allina is somewhat unusual in the metro area for adding retail clinics right now, he said there’s been a resurgence of interest among health systems in other markets over the past year.
Health systems have popped in and out of the retail medicine business over the years. In 2009, Allina launched a partnership with MinuteClinic, but the contract ended in 2014, Slewinske said. Robbinsdale-based North Memorial previously operated retail clinics in Hy-Vee stores, but no longer does so.
Both Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services and Bloomington-based HealthPartners have operated two retail clinics for several years.
It can be tough to make the retail clinics profitable, because so much of the patient demand is concentrated during the cold and flu season, Charland said.
The broader change with health insurance is a shift away from “fee-for-service” contracts, Charland said, where doctors and hospitals are paid set sums for each service provided. New contracts include financial incentives for doctors and hospitals to provide efficient care within a budget, Charland said, in hopes of eliminating unnecessary care.
While insurers and health care providers have been talking about this shift to “fee-for-value” contracts for many years, Charland said it’s actually starting to happen in a significant way in some markets such as the Twin Cities. That’s making health systems more interested in retail clinics, he said, along with the fact that “their physician groups as compared to a decade ago are a lot more willing to work with this retail clinic environment.”