Meijer Stores Add Clinics

June 5, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Milk. Eggs. Bread. Tetanus shot?

Shoppers in three Grand Rapids-area Meijer stores can add basic health care needs to their one-stop shopping lists, as a doctors’ group has opened low-cost clinics inside the grocery superstores.

Physicians’ Organization of Western Michigan is an alliance of nearly 600 doctors throughout the region. According to Executive Director David Silliven, one of its roles is to provide new market opportunities to participating practitioners. To that end, the group has signed a licensing agreement that allows it to create four walk-in clinics inside Meijer stores — including the three Grand Rapids locations on Plainfield Avenue NE, Alpine Avenue NW and Clyde Park Avenue SW in Wyoming. The licensing agreement with Meijer also includes a clinic inside a Traverse City store.

The clinics, called Affordable Basic Care, offer just what their name suggests. Patients will be able to pay a $45 flat fee for a walk-in appointment with a physician’s assistant, a nurse practitioner or, in some cases, a physician. The medical staff for the facilities comes from a partnership with Metro Health.

Silliven said that the clinics provide a low-cost alternative for individuals who don’t have a primary care physician, and might otherwise visit an emergency room for non-emergency needs.

“Hospital emergency rooms are geared for treating life-threatening emergencies. I’m not saying that certain perceived sore throats or earaches or eye problems don’t potentially have the ability of being life-threatening, but for the most part they’re not,” he said.

The clinics may absorb some of the patient load from over-utilized emergency rooms, but the physicians’ group expects that the clinics will appeal to other groups as well. Silliven said the clinics are not designed for a particular target group of patients. Instead, the clinics will be there “to meet the community need in total.”

“The big issue from our perspective is to respond to a segment of the marketplace that is seeking or has a desire to receive health care services within a retail setting, more than likely because of the convenience factor,” he said.

The flat-fee price structure adds convenience for uninsured patients who will pay for their health care services at the time of treatment. The clinics will also be equipped to deal with health insurers. Silliven said that the organization will be negotiating with Blue Cross Blue Shield and government insurance programs Medicare and Medicaid. Physicians’ Organization of Western Michigan is a partner in Physicians Care PPO, which it will also accept. Silliven was unaware of any negotiations with Priority Health, the largest local provider of health insurance.

Like the physicians’ group, Meijer officials are excited about the potential of the new clinics. Earlier this year, Meijer opened two similar clinics in stores on the east side of the state, where they have been well received.

“The positive feedback we’ve gotten from this has been phenomenal,” said Judith Clark, Meijer’s director of community relations and communications. “It fits the lifestyles of people that are just increasingly busier. It allows a busy mother easy, affordable access to instant health care for a sick child, where she normally might be taking off work. Now she can stop in at a Meijer and get her child checked out.”

Of course, others might not be so keen on the idea of catching a cold from their fellow Meijer shoppers. Opening the clinics may seem like an invitation to bring sick people into the stores, potentially exposing other customers to illness, but Clark said that Meijer can only do so much to provide a safe, healthy environment for its shoppers. And, she pointed out, it’s not as if the company keeps unhealthy individuals out of its stores today.

“We’re open to the general public 24/7, so it would be really difficult to contain. We can’t contain it now,” she said. “It’s not any different than if a sick person came into the pharmacy to pick up their prescription.”

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