BERLIN – The new culture of health care in the United States has prompted Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) to partner with local pharmacy Rite Aid to bring health clinics to the community on site at three participating pharmacies.
AGH plans to open health clinics in the Ocean Pines Rite Aid, at Manklin Creek Rd. and Route 589, as well as in Pocomoke City and Millsboro, Del.
“It’s a new and emerging concept in the last five years, and it’s been growing very rapidly across the country,” said AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin.
People have shifted from making appointments with doctors, or seeing their doctors annually, to less regular health care. Now, when people don’t feel well, they do whatever is the most convenient to get care, Franklin said. People are also wary of paying the costs that health insurance does not cover.
“We’re really trying to streamline it and bring the cost of healthcare down,” said Franklin.
Eighteen months ago, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) began considering ways to serve more people with primary or immediate care needs.
The hospital first tried expanding evening hours at its Atlantic Health Center until 6 p.m., but that expansion of hours was not enough.
As staff looked further into increasing access to immediate care, they realized that renting space in an existing business would be a better use of resources than expanding access at the health clinic or at doctor’s offices. Retail spaces are also in convenient areas that people already visit for necessities.
Staff also looked at locating the clinics in areas near current doctor’s offices, so care for more serious problems could be easily available to patients at the walk-in clinic.
Rite Aid has participated in similar programs in other parts of the country and happened to have a location in an area considered by AGH for the retail site clinic.
The relationship between AGH and Rite Aid is not about making money, said Franklin. AGH is simply renting space from the pharmacy and makes no profit from prescriptions written by the nurse practitioner on site or from other follow-up care items patients might purchase from the pharmacy.
The clinics will be established solely to extend care deeper into the community, said AGH Public Relations Director Toni Keiser.
The clinic at the Ocean Pines Rite Aid will be open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
“It is also especially convenient for the community to visit evenings and weekend when healthcare is not available,” said Keiser.
With 75 percent of families having two parents working outside the home, the health clinics’ hours will be especially useful for parents of small children, Franklin felt.
“You don’t have time the next day to take junior to the doctor. You need a resolution that evening,” Franklin said.
The walk-in clinic is also more affordable, both for those who have health insurance, and the uninsured. Many health insurance plans have high deductibles, for example, which is still an out of pocket health care expense.
“People have become more responsible for out-of-pocket expenses. If you look at the out-of-pocket costs, people are avoiding going to the ER and even avoiding the pharmacy because of the cost associated with that,” Franklin said.
Patients who have their health needs fulfilled at the clinic can then get their aftercare items at the pharmacy, whether antibiotic ointment or a prescription.
“It makes it a lot more convenient,” said Franklin. “It also increases compliance.”
Sometimes people do not fill prescriptions, he said, but being able to do so right away and in the same place will alleviate some of that tendency.
A patient who needs more care than the clinic can give would be directed to that care, whether through an appointment with a doctor or a visit to the emergency room, Keiser said.
The clinics, according to Franklin, are not a substitute for AGH’s emergency department, because most visitors to the emergency room feel they have no other choice.
“What we see usually in the emergency room is people who are desperate,” said Franklin.
Sometimes emergency rooms see people in an even less healthy condition than they would if a clinic had been available because delayed care can make health conditions worse. Clinic services can reduce the severity of an illness or condition before it becomes acute.
“We look at it as another level of access,” said Keiser.
The clinics, with one nurse practitioner and two exam rooms, will open the first week of November.