Pharmacy giant CVS Caremark Corp. and UCLA Health System are teaming up to treat patients in 11 in-store clinics in Los Angeles County as one remedy to a growing shortage of primary care physicians.
Under this arrangement, UCLA physicians will serve as medical directors overseeing 11 CVS MinuteClinics and the two entities will share electronic medical records.
CVS runs nearly 600 MinuteClinics nationwide inside its stores where nurse practitioners treat routine illnesses and provide physicals and vaccinations with no appointment necessary seven days a week. Rival Walgreen Co. operates more than 350 Take Care Clinics.
Drugstore chains and major retailers are opening more of these walk-in clinics to capitalize on the influx of newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act. Some experts expect problems with patient access to primary care to worsen as the healthcare law expands coverage to an estimated 30 million people nationwide, including about 4 million in California.
David Feinberg, president of UCLA Health System, said when his executive team started discussing this partnership he was surprised to hear how many of them already used these clinics for common family illnesses.
“It was sort of a confessional, and that was very revealing for us to hear,” Feinberg said. “We do our best to be accessible, but the reality is it can be hard to park [at UCLA]. We’re not always open late or weekends.”
CVS, based in Woonsocket, R.I., will pay the UCLA doctors a fee for their role as medical directors, reviewing patient charts and consulting by phone if a nurse practitioner has questions. The doctors don’t work at the clinics. CVS will refer patients needing more specialty care or a permanent primary care physician to other local medical providers, including those at UCLA.
Andrew Sussman, president of the MinuteClinic division, said the “shortage of primary care is going to be a very important problem we can help resolve.”
A study by Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank in Santa Monica, found these clinics provide care at 30% to 40% lower cost than similar care provided at a physician’s office and that the care provided for routine illnesses was of similar quality.
But some physicians express concern about these clinics treating more patients with chronic and often serious illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.