Walgreen takes unprecedented step to diagnose, treat patients

NPs and PAs will diagnose, treat customers

Walgreen Co. on Thursday expanded its health care services to include the diagnosis and treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma, high cholesterol, and diabetes, making it the first retailer to offer such services in its clinics.

According to Kaiser Health News' Julie Appleby, the move is the retail chain's "boldest push" into health services long provided by physicians. Although other retail clinics—including those at CVS, Walmart, and Target stores—help customers manage chronic conditions, patients are generally diagnosed with those ailments at physicians' offices.

Starting Thursday, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at most of Walgreen's 370 Take Care Clinics will offer diagnoses, treatment, and monitoring for certain chronic conditions, officials say. They will write prescriptions and refer patients for additional testing, as needed.

"We're not trying to take over primary care, but we think we can help support physicians and transform the way care is delivered to provide more access points at a time when people need it the most," says Heather Helle, a vice president at the Deerfield, Ill.-based retailer.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) did not welcome Walgreen's move. AAFP President Jeffrey Cain says it will end "up being riskier for patients and costlier for the country" because patients with hard-to-manage conditions will be treated across various settings and retail clinics may not have necessary specialty services.

However, Steven Weinberger—executive vice president of the American College of Physicians—says his group "understand[s] retail clinics are here to stay and likely to expand." He adds, "We need to figure out how the patient can be best served … in terms of safety, access, and communication with the primary care physicians" (Appleby, USA Today/Kaiser Health News, 4/4; Murphy, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/4).

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