The pharmacy-as-caretaker approach has begun to take on an old-fashioned, cozy appeal to consumers, a sort of Pleasantville, 1950s model where your kindly white-coated pharmacist serves as an ersatz doctor. This is what Rosenbluth is seeking to expand on as America eases into nationalized health care: If your local Walgreens has your familiar pharmacist and a nurse practitioner to do your flu shot and give your kid with the sore throat a quick strep test, you’re more likely to go there than wait for your M.D., who’ll also charge a lot more. (Walgreens administered seven and a half million flu shots last season.) Again, it’s the Wawa model, the one-stop shopping, the we’re-on-your-side vibe, that consumers like. Where Wawa runs its $2 .99 Hoagie-fest in summer, Take Care gives us $35 back-to-school physicals in August (two or more kids, $30 each!), and $29.99 flu shots.
“We plan to open roughly 1,500 to 2,000 clinics over the next three to four years,” Rosenbluth says. As for whether the clinics are making money for Walgreens yet, he adds, “Those we opened four years ago are profitable, those opened three years ago are mostly profitable, and those opened since then are heading to profitability.”
Rosenbluth is positive Take Care’s clinics will fit in seamlessly with the Obama health plan, because his business model is basically the same as what the plan mandates. “We had the concept: nurse practitioners, transparent pricing, no appointments — really, what they’re trying to do with health-care reform.” That user-friendly Take Care computer makes it all incredibly easy: You click to accept legal terms, to see prices for services, to choose your vaccine or test. “If there’s a wait, you’ll soon be able to put in your cell-phone number and leave, and you’ll get a call five minutes before they’re ready to see you,” Rosenbluth says.
This very convenience, though, raises eyebrows among medical ethicists. “When you run a clinic in a drugstore, it’s partly aimed at bringing people into that drugstore,” notes Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at Penn. “They’re not building it across the street. And once you’re in the drugstore, you might buy greeting cards or whatever.” Caplan also has concerns about privacy, since in the past, drugstore chains have sold information on their patients to pharmaceutical companies for marketing purposes. That said, Caplan isn’t against drugstore outposts like Take Care and MinuteClinic — quite the opposite. He thinks they’re doing a good job filling the enormous gap between need and health-care providers: “When the Obama health plan went through, it gave insurance to 40 million more people, but we don’t have more primary-care doctors,” he says. “The rise of the drugstore clinic is partly in response to that. You’re going to see dentists taking people’s blood pressure, and pharmacists trying to make people take their medicine. So I think that’s the future.”