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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Aisle 3: Asthma Treatment

Published June 23, 2009 12:38 PM by Colleen Mullarkey

Could the local Walgreen's or CVS become your asthma patients' first stop when they need an allergy shot or nebulizer treatment? It certainly seems like that's what the pharmacy giants are hoping.

With retail sales floundering, outpatient medical care services down, and the economy still in a sad state, both companies are expanding the services they offer in their in-store clinics. They will even include routine asthma care in some locations.

A CVS MinuteClinics in Columbus, Ohio, is piloting a program to provide asthma patients with nebulizer breathing treatments. And Walgreen's locations in Tampa and Orlando, Fla., already launched a pilot program to provide asthma and osteoporosis patients with specialized injections, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

For the past four years, they've stuck to treating routine ailments like ear and sinus infections, strep throat, and pinkeye. But retail clinical operators are now training nurses to expand the scope of care in these pharmacy clinics.

"We want to create a health corner - a real center that looks like you are walking into the doctor's office," Walgreen's Chief Executive Officer Greg Wasson said of the retailer's Take Care brand clinics.

It offers benefits for patients too. The locations are convenient with both pharmacies nearly ubiquitous throughout the U.S. The scheduling is a perk too, with most clinics open seven days a week and no appointment needed. And the prices aren't bad either - which could attract uninsured and underinsured patients as well as those just looking to save some cash.

But with all those positives, there is one resounding potential negative. Can local pharmacy clinics really provide adequate care for chronic diseases? What if some "routine" difficult breathing is actually an impending asthma exacerbation that could require hospitalization? What if the patient has a medical history that could complicate the treatment?

I agree CVS and Walgreen's are great places to stop when you're in a jam - you can get pantyhose, snacks, prescriptions, even lawn ornaments, just about anything you might need. But are they really qualified to be go-to places for asthma patients?

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