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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Walk-In Clinics Expected to Increase With Affordable Care Act

Americans will have affordable health insurance options to choose from during 2013 as the result of the new Affordable Care Act. When the new insurance plans kick in beginning in 2014, as many as 30 million more Americans will have health insurance. Many are concerned this will put a tremendous strain on doctors as more insured people visit their primary care physicians for treatment.

As a result, walk-in clinics, already popular with many patients who like the convenience of not having to make an appointment, are expected to increase from 1,350 in-store clinics nationwide to possibly 3,000 by 2016, according to research firm Merchant Medicine. Pharmacy retailers such as CVS Caremark Corp., Target Corp. and others are responding with plans to open hundreds of walk-in clinics. Patients who visit the clinics will be able to be treated by nurses for routine illnesses.

CVS MinuteClinic is expected to open 100 clinics a year, increasing their already 600 locations. In addition, Walgreen's Take Care Clinics total 350, Walmart has almost 150, and Target will soon open nine more to increase their clinics to 53.

Although physicians are not present at the clinics, the qualify of care provided by nurses for routine illnesses is expected to be of similar quality as that provided at a physician's office. In addition, nurses will refer to a physician any patients who have more complex health problems. In Los Angeles County, UCLA Health System has agreed to help 11 local CVS clinics by providing physicians as clinic medical directors on an off-site basis.

Discussion will continue on the pros and cons of walk-in clinics. On the positive side, the cost is estimated at 30 to 40 percent less than a visit to the physician's office. There are concerns, however, that the clinics could actually increase the cost of medical care through unnecessary visits to the clinics.

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