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More Signs of Shift to Proactive Health Management

by Scott MacStravic

Just last week, I described the many developments that, together, may comprise a “tipping point” in the movement toward proactive health management (PHM) as a complement to and means of reducing the need, demand, and expenditures for sickness care.  Today, two news stories have described further developments in the same direction.

In the U.K., employers are already ahead of their U.S. counterparts in the use of health management for their employees.  Since the government covers employee health care costs through the National Health Service, employers are focusing on even broader ranges of financial advantages from improving employee health.  These include: reduced turnover from family or employee health causes as well as improved morale and satisfaction; often dramatically reduced absences; improved customer satisfaction and loyalty; and even new business that results from retained employees and improved service.

And now, the range of providers being enlisted to support the U.K.’s overall health management is being greatly expanded by including pharmacists in such efforts.  The Health Minister there is pushing for the inclusion of pharmacists as providers of screening tests and vaccinations, even prescribing some drugs in particular cases. [J. Goldstein “In the U.K., a Push for Primary Care from Pharmacists” Wall Street Journal Health Blog Apr 4, 2008 (blogs.wsj.com/health)]  In this, they would be emulating the many examples of pharmacist-based PHM for chronic disease patients, such as the Asheville, North Carolina project that has been successfully doing so for diabetics for years.

Meanwhile, there is another story about the development, in the U.S., of a retail clinic specifically and uniquely for healthy people, where most are intended for those with minor sickness problems.  The clinic, called WellnessMart and based in California,  describes itself as “The New Way to Healthcare”, and offers health services, health education, and health insurance, as well as health products onsite.

It is owned by physicians, including Richard McCauley, MD, and recently moved from the hallway of a health club to a strip mall in Thousand Oaks, according to this article from the Wall Street Journal Blog: “A Retail Clinic for Healthy People”. It claims to be “…revolutionizing the way America accesses care by making preventive services available through convenient retail stores.  These stores are designed to provide healthy people the quick, easy, understandable tools and information they can use to make sure they avoid disease.”

This is in contrast to reliance on physicians’ offices.  “Until now, the basic tools that healthy people need to prevent disease have been confined to the doctor’s office, a place designed for sick people.” The “mart” offers free workshops throughout the day to help people understand their body and how it works, to ensure people know not merely what to do in order to be healthy, but why.  It offers clients a $100 “Wellness Bucks” reward for every year they renew their health insurance through WellnessMart.

Of course, all retail clinics offer some preventive services, such as brief physical exams for school, common immunizations for flu and pneumonia, for example.  The RediClinic chain offers a wide range of “Stay Well” services to complement its “Get Well” services. But the Wellness Mart seems to be the first to focus entirely and exclusively on promoting health and preventing sickness.

It will be interesting to watch the Wellness Mart to learn if this business model works, at least in the California locations where it is offered.  The idea of offering a different place for wellness vs. sickness care may be appealing to consumers, or physicians and retail clinics may be able to combine them in a logical and complementary way that works even better.  But clearly, the movement toward wellness is growing.

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