Despite retail clinics being dubbed a “disruptive innovation” in healthcare delivery, convenient care proponents say disruption wasn’t the goal.

“We never wanted to be a primary care provider; we wanted to be a complement to primary care,” Sarah Rosenberg, deputy executive director of the Convenient Care Association, said during the session “The Evolution of Convenient Care: Trends, Data, and Growth” at this month’s ASHE PDC Summit in San Antonio.

No matter the intention, patients have spoken. In 2006, there were 150 convenient care locations, and today, there are 1,900 in 43 states and Washington, D.C., Rosenberg shared.

Offerings like CVS’s MinuteClinic are finding their niche in the continuum of care, especially for the 40 percent of Americans who don’t have a relationship with a primary care physician to rely on during bouts of cold, flu, or strep throat, as well as those who require last-minute appointments or evening and weekend hours.

Daniel R. Kerns, director of operations for CVS/MinuteClinic, was also on hand for the session. He painted a pretty compelling picture of the future: CVS currently has 985 MinuteClinic locations in 31 states and D.C., and hopes to have 1,500 locations and expand to 35 states by 2017.

Mainstream providers are coming around, too. While convenient care may have at one time been considered competition, now healthcare systems are forming affiliations, recognizing the benefits that come with the sites providing greater access to patients at a lower cost of care and serving as an entry point to systems, thanks to referrals.

CVS—and likely many other convenient care providers—are planning to enhance services, by offering wellness programs like weight loss and smoking cessation counseling, as well as working with affiliated providers to manage chronic conditions, such as hypertension, and offer telehealth services.

This evolutions is also calling for retailers to rethink their spaces. Kerns said a lagging greeting card industry has opened up the opportunity for a little extra square footage becoming available in stores where those aisles are being reduced. How that space may be filled includes the potential for an additional exam room at busier locations, but CVS is primarily focused on figuring out what size works for the needs of each individual site and moving away from the standardized approach that’s been used to date.

ADA accessibility is also a priority, he said, as well as figuring out how to add more services but with small pieces of medical equipment in light of the clinics' generally tight spaces. And partnering with design firms, he added, “is key to getting this figured out.”

For more on the role healthcare designers can play in the future of retail health environments, see “Burgeoning Retail Clinics Require Unique Designs.