HEALTH CARE HELP

The booming trend of retail-based medical clinics could be particularly beneficial to retailers catering to Hispanics. That's because 32.7%, or 14 million, of Hispanics were uninsured in 2005 the highest of any other group, according to the U.S Census Bureau. The percentage is even higher at retailers in certain geographic areas. Take Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, where half of the patients

The booming trend of retail-based medical clinics could be particularly beneficial to retailers catering to Hispanics. That's because 32.7%, or 14 million, of Hispanics were uninsured in 2005 — the highest of any other group, according to the U.S Census Bureau.

The percentage is even higher at retailers in certain geographic areas. Take Minyard Food Stores, Coppell, Texas, where half of the patients at its new MedBasics in-store medical centers do not have insurance. The clinics operate in two of Minyard's Carnival-banner Hispanic formats.

“MedBasics is a good fit with our neighborhoods, where many people have lower incomes and lack insurance,” Poul Heilmann, Minyard's strategy and marketing senior vice president, told SN.

Staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, Carnival's in-store clinics charge about $49 for most non-urgent services, far less than a visit to a doctor's office or emergency room — where many people without insurance or a primary care doctor wind up.

Minyard's foray into in-store medical clinics began last August when it opened a center in its flagship Carnival store in the Oakwood section of Dallas. About 75% of that store's shoppers are Hispanic. The center was such a success that Minyard opened another in Webb Chapel. Four more are planned for other Carnival stores by the end of the year.

“This hasn't been tried in this market, which shows we're in tune with the needs of our customers,” Heilmann said.

The clinics range from about 400 to 600 square feet. While Carnival loses that as retail space, it benefits from additional store foot traffic. That's because 98% of MedBasics patients use the Carnival pharmacy to get their prescriptions filled.

While there, customers often buy other health-related items, such as over-the-counter medications and Band-Aids.

“MedBasics has a symbiotic relationship with our pharmacy,” Heilmann said.

The Carnival clinics — which Irving, Texas-based MedBasics runs in a lease arrangement with Minyard — currently treat about 25 people each per day. The most common conditions include colds and upper respiratory infections, though many patients seek preventative and wellness tests like cholesterol and glucose screenings.

The centers not only cater to those without insurance, but also those who don't have a primary care doctor, which most Texans don't, according to Brian Jones, MedBasics' chief executive officer.

Even those with insurance and a primary care doctor benefit, as it's a convenient way to get non-urgent medical care, Jones said. MedBasics partnered with several insurance companies so that insured patients are typically charged a copay.

MedBasics centers reach out to Hispanics with a range of bilingual services — from staff to paperwork, signage and brochures.

“We really try to accommodate Spanish-speaking customers,” Jones said.

BILINGUAL AT BASHAS'

The same is true at Bashas' new MediMin health care clinic located inside a Food City-banner store in Phoenix. Not only is the staff bilingual, so are all types of communications — including signage and patient forms.

The Food City clinic is one of three that Chandler, Ariz.-based Bashas' currently operates. The other two are in standard Basha' stores. Bashas' has such high hopes for the new venture that it plans to open more MediMin centers this year, according to Dan Milovich, pharmacy operations director. He declined to elaborate.

The year-old MediMin in Food City treats about 100 patients a week, and the numbers are steadily increasing. The most common medical conditions include sinus infection, strep throat, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections and conjunctivitis. The basic office visit is $50 or the patient's insurance copay. This covers most treatments, with the exception of some lab tests, such as pregnancy.

Milovich said the centers are a plus not only for patients and Food City, but also the area's hospitals, whose emergency rooms are often overburdened with patients who don't require urgent care.

“Statistics show that 50% of people don't need to be going to an ER,” Milovich said.

The MediMin centers are located at the front of the store, about 200 feet from the pharmacy. They operate in an enclosed, private space that is about 450 square feet. There's a small patient waiting area, two exam rooms, a small lab and a bathroom.

Operating hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Each shift is staffed with one nurse practitioner or physician's assistant, and one administrative/medical assistant who is fluent in Spanish.

Bashas' opened the centers as a service to all its customers — from Hispanics to “snowbirds” who stay in the area part time and may not have a primary care physician.

“This is something that can benefit everyone,” Milovich said.

Indeed, Bashas' research revealed that all socioeconomic groups — from blue-color workers to high-end households — are using the clinics.“We're finding that it crosses all barriers,” he said.

While that may be true, they're particularly useful to the Hispanic population, according to Larissa Spraker, Phoenix-based MediMin's chief communications officer.

“Hispanics and other segments of the population have been hurt the most by not having appropriate insurance or access to medical care,” Spraker said.

In addition, the Food City clinics provide Hispanics with a comfortable, familiar environment, with access to providers who speak Spanish and understand the Hispanic culture, Spraker said.

HUNDREDS OF CLINICS

Bashas' and Minyard's clinics join about 300 others nationwide based in a retail settings. About 40% of these are located inside a food store. The concept is growing so rapidly that about 400 additional clinics are expected to open by the end of the year, according to Tine Hansen-Turton, executive director of the Convenient Care Association, Philadelphia, a new organization formed in response to the rising number of retail-based clinics.

The growth of the industry is a big result of spiraling health care costs, which has left many without health insurance and has led to reduced doctor reimbursements, pressuring some physicians to see more patients and/or drop certain insurance participation.

Due to growing demand for affordable, fast and quality medical care, major retail chains including Wal-Mart Stores, Target and H.E. Butt Grocery are already involved in the in-store health care trend. And plenty others are following suit. For instance, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., is opening a Mini-MedCare clinic in its Weehawken, N.J., store, while another is planned for a Jersey City unit.

Roger DiRuggiero, a MiniMedCare partner, said retail-based medical clinics make perfect sense to the food industry.

“Food retailers have a customer base that's very loyal and regular, as opposed to a local pharmacy where someone tends to go only when they need a prescription filled,” he said.

A total of 12 clinics are slated to open in Pathmark over the next 12 to 18 months, according to Larry Earl, another partner at Chester, N.J.-based MiniMedCare.

The goal is to fill a need in the community, said Ken Martindale, Pathmark's co-president and chief merchandising officer.

“At Pathmark, we are always looking for new ways to better serve our customers and the community,” Martindale said in a statement.

A key aspect of the clinics is that they use an Electronic Medical Records system that documents a patient's medical history as well as recommended treatment and prescriptions. A medical doctor reviews the records on a daily basis.

Staffed by nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, the centers handle common ailments like respiratory ailments, ear infections, coughs and colds, and allergies. Most services will cost about $50 to $60.

“This is an affordable alternative for people with no insurance, who normally would have to go to an emergency room or pay about $100 for a doctor's visit,” Earl said.

Though the MiniMedCare centers don't specifically target specific ethnic groups, they certainly will reach Hispanics, as many of Pathmark's stores are in diverse areas, he said.

Clinics-at-a-Glance

The MedBasics clinics that operate in two Carnival Food Stores charge $49 for most services and are open seven days a week. No appointments are necessary.

HOURS:

Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

STAFF:

Nurse practitioner and/or a physician assistant

CONDITIONS TREATED:

More than 30, including:

  • Respiratory
  • Ear, nose and throat
  • Digestive and urinary
  • Cholesterol screening
  • Allergies
  • Strep throat

LENGTH OF MOST VISITS:

15 minutes

AGES ACCEPTED:

Adults, and children over 18 months of age

The Clinic Report Card

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Americans who have used retail-based health care clinics say they are satisfied with the care they received, according to a new Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive health care poll.

Of the 5% of 2,441 U.S. adults polled who said they have used the clinics, 83% said they have been satisfied with the convenience provided by such clinics, and 90% are satisfied with the quality of care. Eighty percent said they are satisfied with the cost, which typically ranges from $25 to $60 per visit.

Forty-two percent said their health insurance policy covered all or a portion of the costs, 36% said insurance didn't cover any of the costs, and 22% said they did not have health insurance at the time.

Still, 64% of those polled said they are worried about the qualifications of the staff at a health clinic not run by medical doctors. But that's down from 71% in a 2005 poll.

Almost half of adults who use in-store health clinics have done so to receive a vaccination (44%), while one third (33%) received treatment for a common medical condition like an ear infection, cold, strep throat, skin rash or sinus infection.
— C.A.