Thursday, February 6, 2014
CVS Caremark is drawing a lot of attention with the recent announcement of its decision to stop selling tobacco products in its drug store operations. Many, including the NYT and McKnights, are highlighting this decision as a pro-health measure, and certainly that should be true. News coverage of CVS suggests that other drug store chains are considering whether to adopt the same policy. But, the decision also highlights CVS' role in a major consumer trend; consumers are seeking what might be called retail health care at the corner drug store. This trend is arguably a move away from, or at least a major supplement to, a more traditional setting where a primary care physician's office is the access point for health care assessments. CVS' decision is part of its enhanced image as "health care provider."
I've been fascinated to see the popularity, especially among my parents' generation (in their 80s!), of using the "clinic" at the drug store to get complaint-specific treatment. Ease of access is certainly a major part of the appeal. I suspect that another factor is the decision of many trusted family physicians to retire. Indeed, my parents have now outlived the working lives of several sets of doctors.
At the same time, I worry about what might be missed when a customer uses the local drugstore "clinic" for a specific complaint -- and when those visits start to multiply. The pharmacy clinic does not have the decades of records that can help to explain a patient's symptoms and progress. Are there missed opportunities for whole person health care? And is the drug store clinic potentially "eager" to prescribe -- and sell -- drugs?