In the US, CVS Health now operates over 1,100 MinuteClinics providing basic primary care services inside its existing drug stores. In the UK, Celesio recently announced plans to roll out LloydsPharmacy Healthcare Centres, which will give patients the option to receive infusion or injection treatments from specialist nursing teams co-located with LloydsPharmacy sites. And in Australia, Ramsay Health Care is developing a Pharmacy Franchise Network offering a range of health services, from blood glucose testing and diabetes support programmes to chronic pain management education. These pharmacies are meant to offer patients flexibility of care setting.
The impetus for establishing retail clinics varies. In the US, patients are incentivised to shop around for care, and so retail clinics can help providers win over customers. In the UK, however, community-based offerings aim to improve the patient experience and alleviate pressure on acute care.
Regardless of these differences, the global growth of ambulatory clinics demonstrates an opportunity for providers to better meet patients' health needs. No matter the motivation, we've identified three key insights providers can learn from when establishing a community-based clinic:
1. Know what 'convenience' means to your patients
When it comes to ambulatory offerings, convenience is paramount. Effective retail clinics minimise disruptions to patients' daily lives by offering easy access. But providing people with care when and where they need it is only possible once you understand what convenience means to patients.
We recently spoke with two hospitals in the UK about their ambulatory care strategy.
One hospital's patient population primarily works in support services like transportation and cleaning. As a result, their urgent care activity spikes between 10:00pm and 12:00am when those patients finish work and can access care. Conversely, the other hospital sees almost no demand for urgent care service after 9:00pm on weekdays and 5:00pm on weekends.
A 'convenient' ambulatory offering looks very different for each of these hospitals, and it's crucial to understand the demographics, usage patterns, and preferences of your market to design an effective clinic.
2. Empower patients in self-management
Effective retail clinics have the potential to transform how patients interact with health care. Rather than taking a traditional approach to health care—'you have a problem, we'll sort you out'—clinics should put patients in control of their own care.
The Healthcare Centres from LloydsPharmacy, for example, aim to allow people to regain some of the control they lose after they're first diagnosed with cancer. Allowing patients to make choices about their care, such as if they want to receive treatment in the hospital or community retail clinics, helps them feel like they're in charge of their conditions and their lives.
Another organisation we spoke with runs HIV and sexual health clinics throughout their region. The clinics provide convenient alternative access points, quick results, and additional support when necessary. By positioning themselves as a unique resource to support patients in self-management, the provider has improved people's relationship with the health system and made it easier for patients to adhere to care plans.
3. Embed collaboration between acute and community care
Establishing convenient, empowering ambulatory offerings is a great first step, but to be truly transformative, ambulatory clinics must connect the broader health care continuum.
Effective ambulatory clinics leverage IT systems to bridge the gap between primary, secondary, and community care through secure information sharing and standardised clinical order sets.
But innovative approaches that go beyond information sharing are necessary to build connections between acute and community care offerings. There's no one way to do this, but frequent communication and transparency are key.
One health system we spoke with is taking the creative approach of hiring urgent care coordinators who rotate between acute care and community services. The position is designed to increase awareness about ambulatory offerings, enhance coordination, and standardise care.
Strong cross-continuum relationships benefit both community and acute care by connecting otherwise siloed care pathways and ensuring that patients receive consistent care across all settings.