Two stories popped up today updating the trend in the US for convenient health care delivered through retail drug stores (a social marketing story talked about here 18 months ago). Jo Ciavaglia reports that in the past year 16 CVS MinuteClinics have been opened in Philadelphia PA area and 8 Walgreen Take Care Clinics are in Pittsburgh.
While the flack from the American Medical Association continues, major insurers in Pennsylvania are embracing the trend and covering some MinuteClinic services as in-network. The story also notes that the clinics can electronically transfer patient records to any physician in the US - yet a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine found only 4% of US physicians have a fully functional system to manage electronic health records. Jo also notes: Earlier this month, a Wall Street Journal.com/Harris Interactive survey of 5,000 adult found most who used a pharmacy or retail chain clinics were satisfied with the quality of care, cost, and staff qualifications.
Jeffrey Krasner ledes in The Boston Globe: Some of the state's largest health insurers say they will cover visits to the retail health clinics expected to open in CVS and Walgreens drugstores later this year, making the clinics attractive options for the treatment of everyday ailments. He reports that CVS will have 28 MinuteClinics in operation in Massachusetts by the end of the year and 100 within 5 years. In Massachusetts the proposal to offer more accessible and affordable care was opposed by the Massachusetts Medical Society and Boston's Mayor Menino who "decried the notion of retailers profiting from illness" (sound familiar to those in the international social marketing world? Free insecticide-treated bednets anyone?) ... despite the medical establishment's objections, the state Public Health Council in January approved the MinuteClinic plan, saying expanding access to healthcare outweighed concerns about patients using the clinics as a substitute for an ongoing relationship with a physician.
It's also noteworthy that the insurers see these clinics as one way to address the shortage of primary care physicians in the state and that the state hospital association also supports the movement toward reducing the burden on emergency rooms and improving access to primary care.
What's notable for me as a social marketer is how the business sector in the US is following a similar model that social marketers have been using in developing countries for a decade or more and where the ideas of social franchising are gaining even more currency as a base-of-the pyramid business model. What often gets overlooked in the ideological battles - in the US and abroad - of providing market-oriented, or publicly/donor financed, or consumer-oriented health promotion, disease prevention and health care, is that people need and want access to health products and services. When the marketplace (and I include here the total market of public, private and nonprofit (NGO) sectors) is not satisfying these wants and needs, social entrepreneurs and marketers (and even some corporations willing to get out of the box of 'profit or CSR?') have the tools and abilities to make equity and access of health for all more authentic. When you start thinking about total market approaches, innovative solutions to public health challenges can emerge when the lines between sectors and what 'they are responsible for' are blurred and they instead converge on the people in need.