The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants to test the viability of allowing veterans covered by their plans to get care at CVS MinuteClinics. The new program, limited to the Phoenix area, is seemingly a response to complaints that veterans notoriously have to wait an inordinate amount of time to see providers at VA health centers. The pilot waves the VA Choice program rule that says veterans must wait 30 days or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility in order to seek care elsewhere; instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.” Besides the obvious concern of whether those patients will be well served in the absence of a physician, a larger question is, could the urgent care industry nudge the VA toward trying this with urgent care? Tricare members already have permission to seek urgent care when necessary, so expanding to other covered groups might not be that much of a stretch anyway.

This news comes as retail sites have been experimenting with ways to provide a version of primary care, essentially. CVS has been developing primary care shops within their drugstores, offering counseling for nutrition, weight loss, and smoking, along with medical care; those locations are staffed by nurse practitioners or physician assistants. Walmart has also established primary care clinics that offer care by nurse practitioners with primary care provider back-up.

Could VA Pilot Program Be a Model for Urgent Care?
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