Care Transformation Center Blog

Walmart, Walgreens, or CVS? Your guide to the right retail partnership.

by Jordan Stone

Just as the term ‘ACO’ has taken on multiple definitions, ‘retail clinic partnerships’ are anything but one size fits all. To test your own knowledge of different retail collaborations in the market, see if you can identify the retailer in each question:

  • Which retailers are advancing Medicare ACO models with health system partners?
  • Which retailers may be more flexible with the terms of the partnership?
  • Which retailers carry the financial risk for the clinic, but access physician oversight from provider partners?

View the answers.

Easily compare retail partnership models

Selecting the right retail partnership for your organization can be challenging. So you don't have to compare from scratch, we've broken down different retail clinic models by their key benefits and drawbacks—today and in the long term.

As you move up and down the chart, you’ll notice a clear tradeoff health systems face between financial risk and autonomy in running the clinic. The financial risks associated with each model are straightforward, but systems should look beyond them in choosing a model that fits.

Health Care Advisory Board, Marketing and Planning Leadership Council, and Medical Group Strategy Council members can download the chart and access our full study to learn more about retail partnerships.

Here are three important elements to look for in a partnership.

1. The ability to convert retail patient visits into long-term health system relationships

For most systems, the real value of the retail clinic lies in its ability to turn a single retail visit into lasting patient loyalty to the system. Here's how to make that a reality:

  • Have a hardwired process for linking non-established patients to PCPs. For partners, this means updating the retailer on which PCPs have capacity and creating an easy method for referrals. For owned clinics, scheduling a follow-up visit on the spot can ensure continuity.

  • Support the retail site with an accessible network of clinics. Retail NPs often refer patient to the most convenient clinic for follow-up care, so position other ambulatory assets nearby to capture business. There is an additional benefit to nearby sites—overburdened PCPs can send low-severity cases to the retail clinic if needed (more on that in #3).

2. A presence in areas with patients you want to attract

The retail clinic’s ability to draw new and attractive volumes depends on the clientele that frequent the store, the type of clinic advertising used, and the pre-existing retail competition in the region.

Starbucks: The perfect neighbor for your next retail clinic

Providers should evaluate this information before entering into partnership to discern whether the retail clinic will attract reliable volumes and the target consumer group. Word of caution—when operational control is with the retailer, advertising restrictions may limit the ability of the system to use its brand name or logo to signal clinical quality or familiarity to patients.

3. A seamlessly integrated piece of the network

To maximize volumes, providers and patients must trust the retail clinic as just another coordinated point of access and be willing to use it as such. If physicians don’t feel comfortable triaging patients to the retail clinic, it likely won’t hit target daily volumes, which can severely limit its success.

To streamline acceptance, make it easy for your physicians to refer patients to the clinic. Longer term, the system should strive to make retail clinics fully interoperable with other network access points. Link IT systems to communicate easily with other platforms throughout the network. Consider implementing a centralized scheduling platform to make follow-up appointments immediate and ironclad. These bridges will allow patients to move comfortably throughout the network, and should be among the long-term factors considered in selecting a high-value partner.

In the process of selecting a partner? For additional advice on which models will comport best with your system's goals, contact me at

Quiz answers

Q: Which retailers are advancing Medicare ACO models with health system partners?
A: Walgreens has launched three ACOs with provider partners.

Q: Which retailers may be more flexible with the terms of the partnership?
A: Local drug stores or grocery chains with fewer corporate restrictions are more likely to have negotiable partnership terms—including more flexible parameters on signage, fewer restrictions on which clinical services can be provided, and more options for clinic space. Mercy Clinic’s collaboration with Dahl’s food stores is one such example.

Q: Which retailers carry the financial risk for the clinic, but access physician oversight from provider partners?
A: CVS MinuteClinic and The Little Clinic are two examples, among several, where the retailer carries the financial risk for the clinic, while provider partners offer physician oversight to the clinics.

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See More Posts on Retail Clinics

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