Reimagining Healthcare Delivery: Recent Failures of Retail Health Clinics & Role of Pharmacies in Bridging Care Gaps

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Bottle with gears pouring out_Pharmacy interopIn a surprising turn of events, Walmart announced the closure of all 51 of its health clinics. This decision comes just months after signals of potential expansion, making the news particularly shocking and disappointing. Walmart cited "profitability concerns due to reimbursement and staffing" as reasons for this abrupt decision, highlighting the broader issues facing retail health clinics, such as the perceived quality versus access tradeoff and the challenge of ensuring continuity of care.

A survey by NEJM Catalyst in October 2022 revealed that nearly 70% of global health leaders view the quality of care in retail clinics as inferior to that of primary care practices. Issues such as continuity of care and patient tracking were significant concerns. This perception plays a crucial role in the sustainability of such healthcare models.

The closure of Walmart’s health clinics underlines a fundamental issue and opportunity in our healthcare system: the integration of pharmacies and pharmacists as a more prominent part of the healthcare delivery model. Pharmacies, especially in rural areas, could play a crucial role in filling the care gaps left by the closure of these clinics. They can offer clinical services under the same umbrella as traditional pharmacy services but with significantly lower overhead.

However, achieving this requires tackling three major issues: reimbursement, care coordination and pharmacy interoperability. Ensuring that pharmacists are reimbursed for clinical services is essential for the viability of this model. Furthermore, including pharmacists as part of the care team, either through collaborative practice agreements or value-based models allowing pharmacists to receive Admit, discharge and Transfer (ADT) notifications to alert them of any hospital admissions, discharges, and transfers. And finally, enhancing pharmacy interoperability is crucial for maintaining continuity of care through efficient information exchange, including allowing pharmacists to access patient records to support clinical care and allow for electronically sharing information back to physicians and payers on any care or interventions provided to the patient.

The discussion around these topics on LinkedIn has been vibrant, many are questioning the sustainability of retail-based healthcare models and the rapid decisions that led to the closures. The potential for pharmacists to bridge these gaps is immense, particularly if supported by federal policies that recognize and reimburse pharmacists for their clinical services.

This moment serves as a call to action for the healthcare industry to address the pressing issues of reimbursement and interoperability. We must leverage the full potential of pharmacists to improve healthcare delivery, especially in underserved areas. By focusing on these areas, we can create a more integrated, efficient, and equitable healthcare system.

Let’s take this opportunity to push for changes that will support the role of pharmacy in delivering care and filling care gaps. I encourage you to reach out to me at pooja.babbrah@pocp.com to discuss how we can advance pharmacy interoperability and tackle reimbursement challenges together. Be sure to also attend our upcoming webinar on May 29th where we'll provide some hopefully really useful insights into current policy, industry progress and areas we need to do more work. Your insights and support are crucial as we work towards making healthcare better for everyone.