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Walgreens expands care for chronic conditions

Walgreens announced on Thursday that they will be expanding their Take Care Clinics to include services for certain chronic conditions including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol and asthma.

"With this service expansion, Take Care Clinics now provide the most comprehensive service offering within the retail clinic industry, and can play an even more valuable role in helping patients get, stay and live well," Dr. Jeffrey Kang, senior vice president of health and wellness services and solutions, Walgreens, said in a press release."Through greater access to services and a broader focus on disease prevention and chronic condition management, our clinics can connect and work with physicians and other providers to better help support the increasing demands on our health care system today."

The company said in a press release that the services will be included in 330 Take Care Clinics at select Walgreens in 18 states and Washington D.C.

The new service expansion will allow Walgreen's facilities to assess, treat and help people take care of several chronic conditions. This includes ordering preventative health services like lab tests or screenings based on a patient's age, gender and family history. Medical professionals can also write prescriptions. Physicians will oversee the entire process and will be able to electronically send test results and other information to doctors' offices.

The clinics are open seven days a week and have extended evening and weekend hours. Same-day and walk-in availability is an option, and Walgreens will accept most major insurance plants including Medicare and Medicaid. There are also affordable plans for those without insurance.

Walgreens pointed out that the retail clinic industry estimates that one in three patients do not have a regular physician, and a Rand Corporation study showed that the use of walk-in retail clinics has gone up 10 times over the past two years. While they still recommend having a primary care physician and regular medical facility for ongoing and routine issues, they hope their new services can work in conjunction with a patient's current medical plan.

"The existing gaps in patient care and demands on an already overburdened health care system are all projected to worsen with an influx of new patients under health care reform," Heather Helle, divisional vice president of Walgreens consumer solutions group, said in a press release. "Walgreens is stepping up to be part of the solution. As innovative care delivery models emerge, we are uniquely positioned to play an integral role in addressing the needs of patients, payers, and providers and to help shape the future of health care delivery in the U.S."

Some experts said Walgreen's push into preventative services was a bold move. While other retail stores that offer health services may treat patients with chronic illnesses, none have taken on the task of helping diagnose the patients.

"Those two words, diagnosis and treatment, are big words. They show (Walgreens) is coming out of the closet and saying, 'We really are going to do primary care now,'" Tom Charland, chief executive officer of a health care consulting firm called Merchant Medicine, told USA Today and Kaiser Health News.

The American Academy of Family Physicians president Jeffrey Cain spoke out against the plan to the Denver Post, saying patients may opt to go to several different places, which may make it hard for medical professionals to manage their care.

"Our concern is that expansion of retail clinics from urgent care into chronic care means they may get a piece of their diabetes here, blood pressure there," Cain said. "Our health care system is already fragmented."

"We understand retail clinics are here to stay and likely to be expanding," Steven Weinberger, executive vice president of the American College of Physicians, added to USA Today. "We need to figure out how the patient can be best served ... in terms of safety, access and communication with the primary care physicians."