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MSNBC reports on the evolution of the in-store health clinic industry: “Overall, there are about 1,000 retail health clinics currently operating in the United States, according to Merchant Medicine, an industry consulting and research group,” MSNBC writes. “While some clinic operators have been expanding, others have given up. In the past year, Merchant Medicine estimates that 136 clinics have closed up shop, a trend it blames in part on financiers who lost patience when the clinics weren't showing quick profits.”

And, while “as recently as last year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retailers were touting in-store health clinics as the wave of the future, offering basic health care at low cost and with fewer hassles than a visit to your doctor’s office or the emergency room. But widespread acceptance of the clinics appears to be slow, with many consumers reporting skepticism about the idea of getting a checkup where they also get their groceries.

“In addition, many in the business have been hit with operational and financial snags, forcing them to retool or even abandon their strategy.”

KC's View:
What’s interesting about this story, as well as the trend in general, is the apparent assumption that in-store health clinics are a one-size-fits-all solution.

It seems pretty clear to me that there are some retail environments in which a health clinic simply doesn’t make sense, either because the store does not lend itself to that kind of specialty service, or because the population has no need of it.

It also seems pretty obvious that there needs to be some sort of standard established for how these clinics will interact with people’s regular doctors – in those cases where people actually have their own physicians. Ideally, clinics are just part of the whole…not a replacement for the whole.

But let’s face it. There are people who don't have doctors who could use this kind of accessible and affordable option. And there are situations – like a flu shot, or some sort of low-level, easily diagnosed malady – in which a visit to an in-store clinic is completely appropriate and actually might take some pressure off traditional doctors’ offices.

One person in the story is quoted as suggesting that the rise of in-store clinics reflects the continuing degradation of the US health care system. But that strikes me as an overwrought response. The in-store clinic solution can be a sensible and appropriate option for shoppers, and can help certain retailers close the loop between food and health and wellness in a way that makes sense.

The biggest danger to the concept, I think, is what often can be the traditional industry response to an innovation – expect it to change the world overnight, and if it does not, label it a failure. There are few such game changers…and in-store clinics need to be seen in context and in proportion.