Going outside the box in search of treatment

Federal reform efforts push care providers to consider new ways to reach patients

December 10. 2012 3:00AM


When Massachusetts introduced health insurance for all of its residences, one of the first problems that came up was the shortage of primary-care physicians to treat all of the newly insured patients. In came companies establishing clinics in retail settings and stand-alone urgent care clinics to take care of the everyday maladies hospitals and physicians groups no longer had time to treat — at prices more people were willing to pay.

Regina Tambolas, a nurse practitioner at MinuteClinic's Hoboken location. The company has 28 clinics in New Jersey.

As the implementation of health care reform continues around the country, New Jersey is seeing an influx of retail and urgent care clinics opening to try to meet the demand that will only grow in the coming years.

MinuteClinics, where licensed nurse practitioners under the supervision of physicians give flu shots, check blood pressure and diagnose common colds, appear in CVS Caremark stores around the state. These clinics, more and more, are becoming clinically affiliated with local hospitals in order to help integrate electronic health records and more easily transfer complex cases to the most appropriate setting.

"MinuteClinic has grown considerably in New Jersey since we opened our first four clinics in the state in October 2006," said MinuteClinic's president, Dr. Andrew Sussman. The chain will soon open its 29th New Jersey location, and expects additional Garden State locations to be included in the 1,000 clinics to be opened by 2016.

"Demand for our services is growing rapidly, and recently, we have seen some of the highest volumes in our history," Sussman said.

Hackensack University Health Network recently signed on to an agreement with MinuteClinic to become clinically affiliated with six retail clinics; Virtua and Atlantic Health System also have affiliated with MinuteClinic in the state. Robert Garrett, president and CEO of Hackensack University Health Network, said retail and urgent care clinics fit well into the health care reform model, because more and more health care is moving out of hospitals and into alternate settings.

"Health care reform certainly is the right area to talk about these types of partnerships," Garrett said. "It's a great example of where people can receive basic care without having to access the hospital system."

Lending the hospital's "proven track record" to the retail clinic also helps Hackensack's name get in front of more patients that may have never had an experience with Hackensack University Medical Center before, he said.

"Our motivation in forming these partnerships includes creating opportunities for joint clinical care and continuity," Sussman said, including "collaborating with affiliate physicians who can provide quality oversight, teaching and backup for MinuteClinic's practitioners" and integrating electronic health records.

"More than 50 percent of our patients do not have a primary-care physician, so developing these relationships helps to provide greater opportunities for the continuity and comprehensiveness of health care services," Sussman added.

New Jersey requires that physicians supervise nurse practitioners, but because retail clinics are treated as physician offices by the state, they are not regulated by the Department of Health.

E-mail to: melindac@njbiz.com

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