Doctors are in short supply, but a new partnership could help patients get a quicker appointment - at their grocery store.
In the coming months, BayCare Health System will be creating "telehealth" centers at Publix Super Markets in the Tampa Bay area.
Glenn Waters, BayCare’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said this could help address a statewide doctor shortage that often means long waits for appointments:
"This'll enable people when they're shopping - or come in off the street - to go use the telehealth facility to be seen by a board certified physician for a variety of different medical conditions,” Glenn said.
Patients with minor illnesses - like a cold or sore throat – can speak directly to a doctor through video conference technology in a private room with medical diagnostic equipment, including stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, high-definition cameras and other tools necessary for common diagnoses.
The doctor can direct the patient to use the equipment, and Publix support staff will be available to help, if needed.
Waters said fees to use the telehealth site are expected to be competitive with a normal doctor’s office co-pay, and appointments aren’t necessary. He can’t speak specifically to whether insurance could cover the visits, as most health insurance companies do not currently cover telehealth visits in Florida.
Waters hesitates to call the new facilities “clinics” since the doctors are not physically there. But it does give patients a chance to see a doctor - virtually - without driving out of their neighborhood, or waiting a week or two for an appointment.
Publix previously partnered with The Little Clinics and had 12 Tampa Bay area locations, but as the Tampa Bay times reported in 2011, “Publix decided to terminate the leases to ‘focus on its core food and pharmacy’ businesses.”
Waters said he can’t comment on Publix’s previous partnership, but that the new telehealth model makes more sense than staffing doctors at Publix clinics.
"It allows us to leverage technology to best utilize what can be scarce resources, and that's physicians,” Waters said. “So by utilizing telehealth we can bring the technology and the service to the patient at a place that's convenient for them."
Another component of the collaboration will enable BayCare patients to test their blood pressure and perform other screenings on the in-store health and wellness kiosks that some Publix stores already have — known as higi stations — and send their screening results directly to their BayCare physician at no extra cost.
“This is a very exciting collaboration for both Publix and BayCare,” said Publix Vice President of Pharmacy Operations Fred Ottolino in a news release. “Through this agreement, we will not only be able to provide BayCare medical expertise to Publix customers seeking non-urgent medical care, but we will also be able to bring Publix’s premier service to BayCare’s patients.”
The details are still being worked out, but Waters said the walk-in centers could be up and running in as little as four months at Publix locations in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties.
Publix will also purchase, renovate and operate four existing on-site BayCare hospital retail pharmacies at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Tampa; Mease Countryside Hospital, Safety Harbor; Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater; and St. Anthony’s Hospital, St. Petersburg. A fifth Publix Pharmacy will be built in Winter Haven Hospital. Publix also will provide free, bedside prescription delivery services to patients at all BayCare hospital locations.
Earlier this year, Florida Hospital Tampa and Walgreens teamed up to put health clinics inside drug stores around the Tampa Bay area. Walgreens opened a pharmacy on-site at the hospital, and offers bedside delivery program for prescriptions.