The dash by Atlanta health systems toward forming new partnerships continued Monday with the announcement of an affiliation between Emory Healthcare and MinuteClinic, which...

The dash by Atlanta health systems toward forming new partnerships continued Monday with the announcement of an affiliation between Emory Healthcare and MinuteClinic, which operates retail clinics in CVS/pharmacy stores.

The initiative underscores a new emphasis on retail care as health reform and the private market drive new ideas for providing medical services in an integrated way.

Retail clinics have mushroomed through metro Atlanta and across the country in the past few years. They cater to people looking for convenient hours and accessible locations, and can lure patients who are uninsured or who have high-deductible policies and are seeking a set price for services.

MinuteClinic, with 31 clinics in the metro area, says Atlanta is its second-leading market behind the Chicago area. Just this year, MinuteClinic added six clinics in the Atlanta region, including as far north as Cartersville. It also opened two clinics in Savannah, which are not a part of the new agreement.

Retail clinics are staffed by nurse practitioners who provide care for common illnesses such as strep throat and ear infections; give vaccinations; conduct physicals; and offer monitoring for chronic conditions.

Under the agreement, Emory physicians will become the medical directors for MinuteClinic’s metro Atlanta locations, providing oversight and consultations.

Emory and MinuteClinic will also integrate their electronic medical record systems and pursue joint marketing initiatives.

MinuteClinic, the retail health care division of CVS Caremark, has similar affiliations with Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Allina Hospitals in the Twin Cities, Advocate Health Care in Illinois, and Catholic Healthcare West in Phoenix.

In-store medical clinics, such as those run by CVS Caremark, Walgreens and Walmart, are seeking to tap into the increasingly important market of caring for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Walmart’s ambition to become the nation’s largest provider of primary health care became known recently when a confidential document sent by the retailer was leaked, as reported by Kaiser Health News. The document, a request for information, sought partners who could help Walmart in a variety of areas, including monitoring patients with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, obesity and other conditions.

Retailers are looking for ways to expand services at their in-store clinics, Kaiser Health News reported. CVS Caremark and Walgreens have set up programs to help diabetics monitor and control their condition, and these programs include counseling chats with pharmacists.

Meanwhile, hospitals across Georgia have recently pursued combinations and acquisitions with other hospitals, with Emory striking a partnership deal with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta.

Emory’s affiliation with MinuteClinic, though, will bring the large hospital system ‘‘a new clientele in a new way,’’ said Bill Custer, a health policy expert at Georgia State University.

Emory, known for its specialty medical care, may gain a new, patient-friendly outlet for disease management and preventive services, Custer added. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Emory’s competitors branch out with similar ventures.

For its part, MinuteClinic will gain from Emory’s medical reputation, Custer said.

John Fox, CEO of Emory Healthcare, said in a statement that Emory is affiliating with MinuteClinics ”to provide greater access to care for patients with certain minor illnesses.”

“We see this as an innovative care model with strong patient satisfaction ratings, and will help extend access to our other Emory Healthcare hospitals and physician specialty services in more neighborhoods throughout the greater Atlanta community,” the statement said.

Dr. Andrew Sussman, president of MinuteClinic, said in a statement, “We share a common goal with Emory Healthcare to make medical care more accessible and convenient in the Atlanta metro area.’’

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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

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