The National Business Group on Health (NBGH) has endorsed the retail health clinic concept in a new policy statement issued on November 15.

The Physician Advisory Group of NBGH reviewed the available evidence on retail health clinics, also known as “convenience care,” to come to this policy decision. The bottom line: NBGH finds that retail clinics meet unmet needs for employees to use for selected, urgent, non-emergent medical problems. Helen Darling, NBGH Executive Director, said that the unique value proposition of retail clinics is that they are, “easily accessible, open to everyone, lower in cost than emergency rooms, and available during hours that many physicians’ offices are closed.”

The retail clinics’ trade association, the Convenient Care Association (CCA), estimates that the number of retail clinics will reach 700 by the end of 2007 and 2,000 by the end of 2008. That’s the sort of pace-of-growth that the NBGH could not ignore.

The NBGH policy strongly supports that retail clinics adopt the level of standards promulgated for primary care by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the CCA’s own standards.

The financial model of retail clinics is attractive to payers — in this case, employers playing the role of health plan sponsors. Payers continue to look for ways to reduce costs while not compromising quality or patient outcomes. In this early phase of retail clinic adoption, some large employers and health plans have reduced the co-pay for services delivered at a retail health clinic because the charges for a visit are lower. A reduced co-pay can drive demand among consumers.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:
The NBGH endorsement of retail clinics gives the Large Employer Stamp of Approval to the concept — and will signal NBGH’s support for reimbursing these visits by employer groups as a lower-cost alternative to the emergency room (when used at the appropriate level of care). While many uninsured people undoubtedly use retail clinics as their main portal to the U.S. health system, the insured population will more likely use these facilities if they know they are covered — especially at a lower copayment. Expect the NBGH’s support to give further impetus to the growth of convenient care and health @ retail.