Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hospital Systems Enter Walk-In Markets

Fortune is like the market, where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Of Empire

November 22, 2011 - In today’s WSJ Health Blog, Laura Landro writes an excellent column on why hospitals, drug stores, hospital systems, and physician groups are establishing more and more walk-in clinics in retail settings.

Among other things, Landro had this to say:
“For patients with immediate medical needs, a growing number of walk-in clinics and freestanding emergency rooms offer an alternative to hours-long waits in the hospital emergency department, today’s Informed Patient column reports.”

"‘Hospital systems feel they need to stop losing these walk-in patients with minor injuries and illnesses to new players,' Tom Charland, chief executive of consulting and research firm Merchant Medicine, tells the Health Blog.' "

“ 'With new models of care envisioned under the new health-care law including bundled payment systems that reimburse for episodes of care rather than for each service, hospitals 'will be responsible for the total cost of patients, so it is in their interest to send them to the lowest-cost provider,' Charland adds.”

“Hospitals are also watching Wal-Mart, which is seeking partners to push into the primary-care market by expanding the quick-service clinics it already runs.”

“Freestanding emergency rooms are also growing in popularity, as health systems find that they can help relieve the burden on primary hospital emergency rooms and draw patients who might have trouble getting to the main hospital ED.”

“While many of the freestanding ERs are owned by hospital systems, some are being built by independent companies that aren’t bound by some of the same regulations as hospitals — such as seeing all patients regardless of ability to pay.”

“Insurers also may not cover all services at independent freestanding emergency rooms. States are now wrestling with how to regulate such facilities.”

Here was my comment on Laura Laundro’s perceptive column:

Nice piece. As I pointed out in my November 10 Medinnovation blog, "Health Care Moves Into Retail Spaces," there's another dimension to this. Hospitals, doctors, and insurers are moving into these spaces because increasing numbers of people are signing up for individual policies featuring health savings accounts with high deductibles . These individuals tend to be sensitive to price, and they are looking for care bargains and the convenience of one-stop shopping. Also insurers have realized to sell these poliicies, one-on-one contact works better than marketing to groups.

Hospitals, physicians, and health insurers are moving into retail spaces because that's where individual care buyers congregate in search of one-stop bargains.

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