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Health clinics fill market niche, but raise concern for some doctors (access required)

By Sam Boykin CHARLOTTE — When flu season arrived this year, rather than make an appointment with her doctor to get vaccinated, Kim Jennings breezed into a local CVS, got a shot, and was on her way in about 15 minutes. “It’s just so much more convenient,” said Jennings, who visited CVS between picking up groceries and dropping off laundry at the dry cleaner. Jennings is not alone in visiting these retail-based health care clinics, which have sprung up all over Charlotte. Minneapolis-based MinuteClinic, a division of CVS Caremark Corp., is the dominant player in the emerging market. Founded in 2000, it has more than 500 clinics in 25 states. Charlotte had four such clinics in 2005, but today there are 13, all located in CVS stores. Outside North Carolina, similar consumer clinics include Express Care in Rite Aid and Take Care Clinics in Walgreens. Operators tout them as a quick and easy way for both insured and uninsured people to routine, affordable care. But some local physicians say that convenience comes at a price. “You get what you pay for,” said Dr. Jordan Lipton, founding partner of Signature Healthcare, one of Charlotte’s first “concierge” medical practices. “One of the problems with any clinic that’s not staffed by a physician and does not offer continuity of care is mistakes are going to be made more frequently.”

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