WellStar Health System and Walgreens announced an agreement Tuesday to collaborate on treating patients who seek care in eight health clinics run by the pharmacy chain in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta.
WellStar said it will help handle patients’ health conditions that require a higher level of care than the Walgreens clinics provide.
“We’re interested in expanding our footprint into retail medicine,’’ said Chris Kane, senior vice president of strategic business development for WellStar, which operates five hospitals in Cobb, Douglas and Paulding counties.
Walgreens said Tuesday that it has similar agreements with health systems in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Orlando, Indianapolis and other markets.
Retail clinics — located in large pharmacy stores or other retail outlets — have spread across the country in the past few years. They cater to people looking for convenient hours and accessible locations, and attract patients who are uninsured or who have high-deductible policies and are seeking a set price for services. Their locations also make it convenient for patients to fill prescriptions.
The clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners who provide care for common illnesses such as strep throat and ear infections; give vaccinations; conduct physicals; and offer monitoring for chronic conditions.
Two years ago, Emory Healthcare announced a similar affiliation with MinuteClinic, which operates retail clinics in CVS pharmacy stores.
“Our hope would be the partnership fosters a working relationship between our physicians and the nurse practitioners in the clinics,” said WellStar’s Kane.
Patients will still have the freedom to choose their own providers for more sophisticated care, Kane noted.
Eventually, under the agreement, WellStar will supply the physicians who supervise the clinics, he said.
Kane called it a natural fit to serve patients who prefer to get care in a low-cost medical setting, especially those who have high-deductible health plans.
“This collaboration extends quality care directly into our communities to provide greater access for patients,” Reynold Jennings, president and CEO of the nonprofit WellStar system, said in a statement. “We believe our communities will benefit from this type of collaborative model as we join forces with Walgreens to deliver more coordinated care.”
WellStar recently joined with another nonprofit hospital system, Piedmont Healthcare, to offer a health insurance product in the metro Atlanta area.
Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, has more than 750 clinic locations in the United States.
Alan London, a Walgreens official, said in a statement, “Working with a highly integrated health system such as WellStar offers an ideal opportunity to further coordinate patient care in northwest Atlanta. We look forward to working together to help patients in these communities get, stay and live well.”