46_Michael C. Howe

MinuteClini

The Quick Fix

Welcome to drive-thru health care: It's conveniently located inside your local Target, CVS pharmacy, or supermarket; it's quick, cheap, and stays open late and on weekends. Physician assistants or nurse practitioners (not doctors) will diagnose, and prescribe drugs for, the dozen most common ailments--your ear infections, your allergies, etc.--for between $28 and $110 (about half of what you'd pay at a doctor's office and a fraction of the cost of an ER visit). And no appointment is necessary.

When MinuteClinic hired CEO Michael C. Howe last June, the five-year-old company had 22 locations in Maryland and Minnesota; today it runs 90 clinics from Seattle to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, and is shooting for 300 in 20 states by year's end and 800 by 2010. The potential upside in the $1.9 trillion health-care industry seems endless (a growing list of competitors apparently agree).

Howe, a former CEO of Arby's, predicts that his short-order approach will transform the healing arts. He says his run as a sandwich mogul gave him "an appreciation of the importance of the customer, or in this case, the patient." If it gives you pause to have a roast-beef professional overseeing little Suzy's lab results, know that after 360,000 patient visits, MinuteClinic reports a 99% satisfaction rate. And Dr. Stephen Schoenbaum, executive vice president for programs at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health-care grant-making and research tank, gives the clinics a qualified thumbs-up: "My one concern would be continuity" of care, he says. But "our health-care system at the moment is so fragmented that [continuity] is only a small component in a very large problem."

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