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Trend left city; it may reappear

Six years ago, retail clinics tried to make a go of it in Fort Wayne.

It didn’t work, but change is afoot as a surge in the clinics takes hold across the nation.

Meijer stores on Lima and Illinois roads in Fort Wayne welcomed Affordable Basic Care clinics in 2007. But seven months after leasing the spaces, the clinics closed. Several factors led to their failure, but foot traffic too light to cover operating costs was a key reason cited.

A lot has happened since 2007, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that figures to create a doctor shortage as some 30 million newly insured Americans start looking for doctors. Many of them will be seeking basic care, which is where retail clinics are likely to have the most impact.

“It stands to reason,” said Will Wright, chief legal officer for The Little Clinic, which has locations inside 80 Kroger Co. stores in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia and Colorado. The retailer from Cincinnati purchased the clinics in 2010.

“The industry did have some internal growing pains while it tried to get the right (business) model,” Wright said. “Being inside an existing store is the best way because of the foot traffic you capture.”

Wright said the company continues to assess key market areas, but Fort Wayne doesn’t have a Little Clinic. He to comment further.

For people seeking “episodic care,” retail clinics will be better than hoping their primary doctor can work them in for minor illnesses, such as routine physicals, the flu, ear and sinus infections or sprains and strains, Wright said.

Critics of the industry say it offers substandard care and that clinics are only staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Patients in a hurry don’t seem to mind. According to the Convenient Care Association, there are more than 1,400 clinics in operation in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

Walgreens Co. of Deerfield, Ill., operates 370 Take Care Clinics nationwide, including 13 outlets in Indiana. An official at Walgreens said its Fort Wayne stores haven’t been selected to house a clinic yet.

With millions of Americans “poised to gain access to health insurance through reform, it’s critical that innovators and leaders in health care identify the most efficient and effective ways for patients to access high-quality health care services,” Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn said in an email statement.

“These clinics are a logical next step in the evolution of health care, making access simpler and easier for patients while ultimately providing cost relief to the already overtaxed health care system.”