Published: February 10, 2009

DANVILLE, Pa. — President Barack Obama is committed to pursuing significant healthcare reform in 2009. Dean Lin, chief executive officer of Careworks Convenient Healthcare™ retail clinics, sees innovative delivery models like Careworks as a vital part of the solution.

Careworks is a business of Geisinger Health System, an integrated delivery system comprised of hospitals, a large physician group practice and a health plan. According to Lin, the central and northeastern Pennsylvania-based Geisinger recognized the opportunity to further address both access and cost issues with the establishment of retail health clinics beginning in 2006. The new Obama administration is poised to focus on similar initiatives.

An estimated 47 million people are uninsured, or live in areas where there is a shortage of primary care physicians. As a result, this population often utilizes hospital emergency rooms as their main source of care, if any. The American College of Emergency Physicians recently released its “2009 State of Emergency Care” report card, only giving the country’s emergency rooms a C- overall and a D- for access.

According to Lin, “Retail clinics like Careworks are unique in that they support an integrated system of local care, collaborating—not competing—with area health providers. We provide non-emergent care to patients who might delay or avoid seeking treatment. We can also improve the reliability of providing preventative health. We have tremendous opportunities to support traditional healthcare resources by linking these individuals to primary care providers whenever possible.”

The Careworks CEO cited challenges facing Massachusetts, recognized by the new administration as the model for universal health coverage. After two years, more than half of the state’s uninsured residents have gained coverage, but now face critical wait times for physician appointments. The state also is experiencing a primary care physician shortage in many areas.

Nationally, the combination of rising unemployment, increased healthcare costs, an aging population, and more people on the Medicaid and Medicare rolls than ever, has prompted the new administration to seek innovative ideas for healthcare reform.

Careworks retail-based medical clinics—currently found in well-known grocery stores in Pennsylvania—are staffed by licensed nurse practitioners and physician assistants. The clinics provide convenient and affordable treatment for common medical ailments such as bronchitis, ear infections, minor sprains and strains, cold and flu symptoms, and pinkeye. They also provide physical exams, lab tests, immunizations and health screenings such as cholesterol testing. Careworks is a founding member of the Convenient Care Association.

“Partnerships between Careworks and other leading health systems is the unique identifier in this equation. Our approach is to integrate the consumer-friendly benefits of this delivery model with the trust and quality you get from the local system of healthcare. For example, we operate clinics in partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network. It’s believed to be the only retail clinic alliance between two physician-led, academic health systems,” said Lin.

According to Lin, Careworks is working to collaborate with additional health systems and retailers. “We believe this innovative delivery model and our approach to partnerships can have an extremely positive impact as the quest for reform continues,” Lin concluded. “Increasing access to affordable healthcare in a manner that supports continuity of care is critical in these turbulent times.”