The walk-in clinic, which began in late August, is open seven days per week and is staffed by nurse practitioners who are able to write prescriptions to treat sinus and bacterial infections, perform health screenings and offer preventative services and counseling.
“We are a one-person show,” Amy LeMay, a nurse practitioner with CVS, said, noting that each CVS location with a clinic typically has two dedicated nurse practitioners to provide a continuity of care for patients.
She said patients simply sign in at the kiosk, provide insurance information directly to the nurse and then undergo an examination, which typically takes about 20 minutes depending on the case. The clinic, located in back of the store near the pharmacy, takes most major private insurance providers, along with Medicare and Medicaid.
LeMay said after the exam, nurses can write prescriptions or recommend that patients see their family doctor.
“We encourage that relationship with primary care, but we’re having more of a shortage of primary care,” LeMay said. “So, that’s where we’re kind of fitting in to keep folks more — it’s cost effective to come here — to keep them out of the emergency room for something that’s not necessarily an emergency type illness or issue, so that’s kind of where we fit the bill, but we do promote that medical home.”
Mike Yannacone, a supervisor at CVS who has been with the company more than 10 years, said a Minute Clinic in Lenoir City has “been a long time coming,” noting that he thought retail clinics were a growing trend in the health care industry.
“Absolutely, and not just that but because of the price of insurance, this is quick and cheap, so this way I don’t have to go see my family physician — if I can get in,” Yannacone said.
CVS spokesman Brent Burkhardt said CVS chooses new Minute Clinic locations based on whether pharmacy buildings can accommodate interior renovations. He said the company also considers “store visitation patterns” and distances to other health care providers.
LeMay said the cost for a visit to CVS’s Minute Clinic is “substantially lower” than other options like the doctor’s office or the emergency room. She said that on average, a trip to the Minute Clinic costs about $110 without insurance versus more than $160 at a doctor’s office.
CVS currently has 850 Minute Clinics in 28 states, LeMay said, noting that patients, particularly members of busy families, have been “thrilled” with the increased accessibility to affordable health care provided by the clinics.
Eddie Ratledge, a pharmacist with Mulberry Street Pharmacy in Loudon, considered adding a walk-in clinic in his pharmacy about five years but demurred from the idea.
“We opted not to do it,” Ratledge said. “Quite frankly, I felt like we were stepping on to the toes of the doctors here locally. I’m stepping into their area of expertise, even though it might not be me doing it. It might be a nurse practitioner or a PA (physician’s assistant), but I’m still kind of infringing on their — I won’t say turf — but into their area, and that’s not what I’m there for. I’m there to work with them.”
Officials with Mulberry Street Pharmacy, which opened in 2007, held talks about a possible clinic with a third-party company shortly after opening.
“We actually when we designed our pharmacy designed it with the potential of possibly doing that in the future, and it would take minimal alteration to our current pharmacy, but we just opted not to do it,” Ratledge said.
Heather Atkinson, a pharmacist with Munsey Pharmacy in Loudon, said the company has not officially entertained the possibility of a walk-in clinic, but she was on board with the concept.
“I think that would be a great idea,” Atkinson said. “It’s something that the owners have never talked about, but I think it’s a fabulous idea.”
In addition to treating routine colds and infections, the CVS Minute Clinic also offers flu vaccinations alongside the pharmacy. While CVS and Walgreens currently have flu shots, vaccines are not yet widely available in the county. As of Monday afternoon, East Tennessee Discount Drugs in Lenoir City and Munsey Pharmacy in Loudon, along with Loudon County Health Department, have not received their vaccine shipments.
Atkinson said she anticipates Munsey Pharmacy receiving its shipment of vaccines in a few weeks, and she said she was not privy to any flu vaccine shortages this year.
“As far as I know there’s not,” she said. “You just have to order them early, and you only get so many, you can request so many, but then they’ll just give you so many. It kind of depends on how many you’ve ordered in the past.”
LeMay said basic three-strain flu shots cost $31.99 at CVS, and patients have the option of taking a broader, four-strain shot for $36.99. She said some insurance plans do not cover the four-strain dose.
Although flu season in East Tennessee can occur as late as February or March, LeMay recommended patients get vaccinated early. The flu vaccine is “theoretically” supposed to last the whole year, she said.
“Theoretically, we’re covered for the entire season, so a lot of folks we’re seeing a lot just coming in and getting it now to go ahead and get that protection because we are seeing some sporadic cases so the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) are recommending anybody 6 months of age and older just go ahead and come on in and get vaccinated.”
Ratledge, whose pharmacy will not carry flu vaccines this year, said that from his experience, patients should wait until the first of November to ensure the vaccine remains potent throughout the season.
“So, if you take it in September or October, a lot of times your ability to respond will be falling off by the time you need it to be at the peak,” he said.