Retail clinic targets Hispanic population, cultural differences

The owner says a physician-staffed clinic located inside a pharmacy closely matches the way the health care system works in Latin countries.

By — Posted Sept. 22, 2008

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A newcomer to the retail clinic market has its sights set on a specific demographic -- Hispanics.

In August, Samoho Healthcare, a Mexico City-based company that runs retail clinics in a few Mexican Wal-Mart stores, opened three physician-run clinics in the Miami area. Guillermo Rochin, founder of Samoho, said the clinics were designed to serve the Hispanic population in a way that mirrors the way health care is delivered in Latin countries.

Rochin said in Latin countries where physician-written prescriptions aren't needed for medications, people generally go to the pharmacy when they have minor illnesses. They visit a doctor only if the illness continues. Because physicians are needed to write prescriptions in the U.S., "having a physician inside the pharmacy is a model that makes sense for the Latino community," he said.

The clinics, called MediGo (a twist on the Spanish word medico, which means doctor), are located inside Navarro Pharmacies, a Cuban-owned pharmacy chain popular among the Hispanic population in Miami.

Rochin said the clinics will also address other issues that have kept Hispanics from seeking medical care, including language and financial barriers.

Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Assn., said she advocates the expansion of retail clinics, which provide an outlet for many Hispanics to get accessible, affordable care.

"The clinics will help people understand that they don't need to go to the emergency department, which is much more expensive, when they fall ill," she said.

Dr. Rios spoke to AMNews just hours before her Sept. 5 address to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., where she talked about the need to lower health care costs and mentioned walk-in clinics as part of the solution. She hopes that the Miami clinics will become the success story that will prompt more clinics like them to open in other heavily Hispanic-populated areas.

A May release from the U.S. Census Bureau said that Hispanics make up 15% of the nation's population. In Miami, according to the 2000 Census, Hispanics made up more than 65% of the population.

Beyond financial barriers

Rochin agrees with Dr. Rios that financial barriers have kept many from seeking care. With his clinics, "patients know when they come to the clinic, before they ever see a doctor, how much it will cost them," he said.

Rochin also hopes this approach to care delivery will encourage more Hispanics to become connected to a regular source of health care and seek preventive care, as well.

A study by the Pew Hispanic Center, released in August, found that Hispanics were twice as likely as non-Hispanic blacks and three times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to lack a primary care physician or other medical home. While some listed financial reasons (11%) or lack of insurance (17%) as a reason, 41% said they are seldom sick and 13% said they don't use doctors.

The MediGo clinics are staffed with doctors who are employed by the same physician group that staffs Mercy Hospital in Miami. The doctors rotate between the hospital, an urgent care center owned by Samoho and the hospital's emergency department. Rochin said the affiliation allows doctors at the clinics to refer patients to primary care physicians, specialists and wellness programs, such as smoking cessation and diabetes care.

And although the target audience is Hispanics, all are welcome, Rochin said. All MediGo physicians speak English and Spanish.

While organized medicine, including the American Medical Association, has expressed concern with the nurse practitioner model of retail clinics, there is generally very little concern with the physician-staffed model.

Ron Davis, MD, AMA immediate past president, said the Association believes a retail clinic model that also addresses specific cultural and language barriers is a positive development in that market.

"By addressing the unique health care needs of minority patients, physicians can work toward eliminating health care disparities and encourage more minority patients to seek regular and necessary medical care," Dr. Davis said.

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