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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Five Reasons Why Retail Clinics Are a “Game-Changing” Threat to Traditional Healthcare Providers That Could Strain Clinical Laboratories and Pathologists

Research conducted by Kalorama suggests the popularity of retail clinics represents a trend towards newer healthcare models that challenge existing models of care, and which could severely impact hospitals, clinical laboratories, and pathology groups

In recent years, pathologists and medical laboratory managers have watched as retail clinics housed in drug and grocery stores became a go-to service for healthcare customers seeking relief from minor illnesses. However, to market research company Kalorama, retail clinics also are a “game-changer” that could pose a threat to healthcare providers if their growth remains unchecked.

At risk are health systems and office-based physicians, along with the clinical laboratories and pathology groups that serve them. This would happen if patients shy away from primary care doctors in favor of cheaper, faster, medical care. However, as retail clinics expand the services they provide, they also could become an important source of orders for certain types of medical laboratory tests.

Kalorama defines retail clinics as, “healthcare centers that provide basic and preventative care in a retail setting; excluded are crisis and acute care centers; urgent care centers; emergency facilities; and wellness centers.” According to Kalorama’s data, “in 2016, total US retail clinic sales are estimated at more than $1.4 billion, an increase of 20.3% per year from $518 million in 2010.”

This increased use of retail clinics is a mixed blessing. On one hand, easy accessibility, low-wait times, and flexibility combined with lower costs for basic care is a boon for certain patients. On the other hand, this emergent healthcare model requires that traditional healthcare facilities address the impact of retail clinics on traditional practices, patient care, and regulatory standards.

Here are five reasons why retail clinics could threaten traditional healthcare models:

Retail Clinics Disrupt the Normal Healthcare Delivery Environment

Retail clinics are designed for immediate treatment of symptoms and vaccinations, not in-depth examination or long-term healthcare relationships between physician and patient. However, because retail clinics are a convenient low-cost option for patients, they become direct competition for full-service. Why visit a primary care physician (PCP) when you can receive off-hour care at lower prices and with faster wait times?

Based on data from peer-reviewed journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, the graph above illustrates the huge growth of retail clinics over just the past 10 years, which is expected to continue. (Image copyright: Accenture Consulting.)

There is a rising fear among PCPs that the quick fix of retail clinic services will translate into poorer overall health for patients who fail to establish permanent long-term healthcare connections. This fear is validated by an American Medical Association (AMA) report that states, “only 39% of retail clinic users report having an established relationship with a primary care physician, which contrasts to about 80% of the general population reporting such a relationship.”

Retail Clinics Increase Competition for Primary Care Practices

Rather than competing with emergency departments, retail clinics directly compete with primary care clinics, according to Kalorama and the AMA. Staffed primarily by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, retail clinics treat symptoms of acute and easily identifiable health issues. There is growing concern that this limits opportunity for patients to receive more comprehensive healthcare that includes identification and treatment of chronic diseases.

And though competition in the healthcare market is good, physicians worry that retail clinics may push smaller stand-alone clinics out of business. The Kalorama report explains that “ultimately, medical practices are businesses that rely upon a steady flow of [patients] for their success.” When primary care facilities close due to loss of patients, it can create immediate healthcare gaps in communities.

Retail Clinics Could Increase Strain on Medical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Kalorama’s data shows that retail clinics could place strain on medical laboratories and pathology practices. The study notes, “retail clinics are becoming relatively large users of point-of-care (POC) tests, clinical chemistry, and immunoassay laboratory tests and vaccines.” Kalorama’s report states, “the combined sales of these three types of products to retail clinics reached $240 million” in 2015, reflecting a 26% per year growth in testing since 2010. Projections from Kalorama suggest further increases in retail clinic test ordering in years to come.

The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) advisory boards, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Commission on Office Laboratory Accreditation (COLA) all have expressed concerns about the rise of retail clinic testing. COLA’s 2017 Spring Newsletter states that the increased use of retail clinics could lead to unnecessary testing, and increasing use of “non-laboratory personnel for laboratory testing.”

The COLA newsletter also warns that pathologists and clinical laboratory managers “should expect to see, over time, a steady increase in the menu of diagnostic testing offered by retail clinics.” COLA suggests that pathologists and laboratory scientists will experience increased demand from retail clinics for their services and expertise, but that because retail clinics often require high-volume, fast-paced testing without the benefit of full clinical laboratories (both in terms of staff and equipment) there is potential for retail clinic testing to fall short of industry standards.

Retail Clinics Fragment Health Records

According to an article in AMA Wire, the AMA House of Delegates (HOD) established guidelines for retail clinics that focus on continuity of medical records and the safeguarding of patient care. The guidelines state that retail clinics “must produce patient visit summaries that are transferred to the appropriate physicians and other healthcare providers in a meaningful format that prominently highlights salient patient information.” The fear, according to the AMA, is that the fragmenting of medical records may bring harm to patients via miscommunication that undermines patient-physician relationships and complicates oversight in treatment plans.

The Kalorama report echoes this sentiment. It states that physicians often take a negative view of retail clinics because of the lack of communication between retail clinics and primary care practices, citing a lack of cooperation or “unwillingness or inability on the part of convenience clinics to share medical information about patients with primary care providers.”

Retail Clinics Are Expanding Their Reach

Despite the fact that the AMA Council on Medical Services 2017 report on delivery reform recommends that retail clinics limit the scope of their care, expansion of retail clinic services has gone unchecked in many areas according to the Kalorama report. AMA policy states that retail clinics must have a “well-defined and limited scope of clinical services,” and the AMA’s 2017 guidelines state that “retail health clinics should neither expand their scope of services beyond minor acute illnesses … nor expand their scope of services to include infusions or injections.”

As retail clinics open around the country and expand their offerings there is a call for increased regulation of retail clinics to check that growth. COLA states that retail clinics are positioning themselves to play a major role in the delivery of primary care services. And the Kalorama report suggests that the trend towards retail clinic use will continue to rise, creating both challenges and opportunities for providers, clinical laboratories, pathologists, and healthcare policy makers who will be required to address the disruption to their businesses.

-Amanda Warren

Related Information:

Retail Clinics 2017: The Game-Changer in Healthcare

Report 7 of The Council on Medical Service: Retail Health Clinics

COLA’s Insights Spring 2017: The Rise of Retail Medicine

The Advance of the Retail Health Clinic Market: The Liability Risk Physicians May Potentially Face When Supervising or Collaborating with Other Professionals

Primary Care Practice Response to Retail Clinics

Retail Clinics are Poised to Offer More Health Services, Participate in ACOS, and Offer Expanded Menu of Clinical Pathology Laboratory Tests

Retail Clinics Continue to Shape Local Healthcare Markets

More Medical Laboratory Testing Expected as Retail Clinics Change Delivery of Routine Healthcare Services

Top-5 Diagnostics Trends Identified by Kalorama Will Impact In Vitro Diagnostics Manufacturers, Medical Laboratories in 2017

UnitedHealth’s Plans to Build More MedExpress Urgent Care Centers Is a Sign of Strong Consumer Demand and Could Be an Opportunity for Clinical Laboratories

Collaboration between Pathologists, Medical Laboratories, and Hospital Staff Substantially Reduced Hospital-Acquired Infections, AHRQ Reports

Decline in hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) overall since 2010 attributed to increased attention to safety protocols and practices by hospital staff in cooperation with clinical laboratory services

It’s now been almost nine years since the Medicare Program stopped paying hospitals and other providers for certain hospital-acquired conditions (HACs). Included in this list are hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). The goal is to substantially reduce the number of HACs and HAIs, thus improving patient outcomes, while substantially reducing the healthcare costs associated with these conditions.

So, almost nine years into these programs, has there been progress on these goals? This is a question of key interest to Medical laboratories and pathology groups because they have a front-line role in working with clinicians to diagnose and treat HAIs, while also looking to identify the transmission of HAIs within the hospital.

A recent report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), indicates that there has been progress in the goal of reducing HACs. The AHRQ report noted a 21% decline in HACs between 2010 and 2015. Data collected during that time indicates a reduction of more than 3.1 million HACs and nearly 125,000 patient deaths due to HACs.

In 2015 alone, nearly one million fewer HAC incidents occurred. The reduction saved “approximately $28 billion in healthcare costs,” an outcome which, the AHRQ report notes, is the result of increased attention to safety protocols in hospitals and a “period of concerted effort by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events.”

Clinical Pathologists/Laboratories Play Key Role in HAI Prevention

Though many reported incidents are associated with adverse drug events, HAIs have been significantly reduced in recent years due to focused efforts on infection prevention. The report notes that clinical pathologists have become vital players in infection prevention programs, and that increased coordination between hospital medical laboratories and clinicians played a crucial role in the reduction.

Eileen O’Rourke is an Infection Preventionist at the Lankenau Medical Center in Philadelphia. And she has served as a leader and consultant for hospital-based infection prevention programs in Pennsylvania since 1984. In an article on the Wolters Kluwer Pharmacy OneSource blog, O’Rourke noted that successful infection prevention and control requires development of “a highly visible and administratively supported infection prevention and control program with qualified and trained personnel.” Clinical pathologists are part of that support team, providing surveillance, testing, and interpretation of data essential for identifying epidemiological origins of infection and pathogen distribution. And the vital services that clinical laboratories provide to reduce HAIs center on surveillance, prevention, and control.

The chart above was calculated on US Dollars in 2012. Since then, thanks to contributions by medical laboratories and pathologists in collaboration with hospitals, those costs have decreased significantly. (Image copyright:

In an article for Lab Testing Matters, John Daly MD, Chief Medical Officer at the Commission on Office Laboratory Accreditation, and former Director of Clinical Laboratories for the Duke University Health System, highlights the importance of surveillance. He states that it is “an essential element of an infection control program” providing “data to identify infected patients and determine the site of infection” as well as “factors that contributed to the infection.” Medical laboratories must, Daly stresses, provide “easy access to high-quality and timely data and give guidance and support on how to use its resources for epidemiologic purposes.”

Daly argues that medical laboratories function as liaisons to clinical services, working to “improve the quality of specimens sent to the laboratory and promoting appropriate use of cultures and other laboratory tests.” The laboratory should, according to Daly, be involved in all aspects of the infection control programs. This ensures:

  • Proper specimen collection;
  • Accurate and rapid testing; and
  • Accurate reporting of laboratory data.

Laboratory Data Provide ‘Early Warning’ for HAI Surveillance Systems

Robert A. Weinstein, MD, wrote in his 1978 article, “The Role of the Microbiology Laboratory in Surveillance and Control of Nosocomial Infections,” that medical laboratories and pathologists are central to prevention and control of HAIs. Laboratory records, Weinstein remarked, serve as important data sources that can identify early spread of infection, thus becoming an “early warning system” for a potential outbreak of infections. The sampling that laboratories perform identifies not only the strain of infection, but the method by which infection is spread, and the best treatment options. Nearly 40 years later his statements ring truer than ever, as anatomic pathology laboratory data continues to reveal patterns of infection faster and more precisely than ever before.

Sarah Mahoney, PhD, is a research scientist at Navitor Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass. In an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, she states that in surveilling patterns of infection, pathologists also decipher the source of infection. Mahoney wrote that it is “necessary to identify the causative organism” for surveillance and management control of HAIs. She also noted that pathologists must strive to discriminate between “hospital- and community-acquired infection” in order to provide clinicians with guidance for treatment, and to map “infection transmission within a clinical setting.”

Hospitals Rely on Medical Laboratories and Pathologists to Help Reduce HAIs 

The concerted effort to reduce HACs and HAIs was inspired by incentives put forth by the US government. In 2008-2009, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ceased paying for hospital-acquired conditions, including HAIs. Since that time, hospitals have worked to prevent and better manage HAIs. In the years since those incentives went into effect, hospitals have increasingly relied on medical laboratories and pathologists to provide necessary testing to prevent HAIs.

The CDC’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Programs create a further need for lab professionals to be involved in the identification, prevention, and treatment of HAIs. The core elements of the program state that the role of diagnostic laboratory testing—especially rapid diagnostic tests—is imperative in providing the necessary data needed to combat HAIs. The pressure is on for hospitals to reduce HAIs further to save lives and reduce costs. Thus, there is increased pressure on medical laboratories as well.

In an article in the College of American Pathologists’ online journal Cap Today,

Larry Massie, MD, Professor of Pathology at the University of New Mexico, and Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine for the New Mexico VA Health Care System in Albuquerque, states that turn-around time is crucial for HAIs, but that laboratories often have difficulty keeping up with large volumes of samples. Massie suggests the use of new technologies could speed up turnaround time, particular for large healthcare providers.

The fight to reduce HAIs and HACs is showing significant progress, and clinical laboratories, working in tandem with clinicians and prevention programs, are a fundamental part of the success of HAI reduction. Clinical pathologists and laboratories often are the front line in prevention and management of HAIs, and the work they do in identifying infections is essential in the assessment and control of those infections.

Amanda Warren


Related Information:

National Scorecard on Rates of Hospital-Acquired Conditions 2010 to 2015: Interim Data from National Efforts to Make Health Care Safer

How Hospitals Can Reduce Hospital-Acquired Infections

HAI Data and Statistics

Hospital Acquired Infection: Molecular Study and Infection Control Guidelines

Rapid Sequencing and Characterization of Pathogens in Hospital-Acquired Infections

The Role of the Microbiology Laboratory in Surveillance and Control of Nosocomial Infections

Core Elements of Hospital Antibiotic Stewardship Program

Pressure’s on to Halt Nosocomial Infections

Hospital Acquired Infections

Surveillance of Hospital-acquired Infections: A Model for Settings with Resource Constraints

The Laboratory and Infection Control

Role of the Microbiologist in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology

Study Finds Occupying Hospital Bed Previously Used by Patient Receiving Antibiotics Increases Odds of Developing C.diff Infection