San Mateo doctors move into stores 

Quickhealth, a rapidly growing retail medical clinic where patients pay cash for service, has found success expanding into pharmacy chains such as Farmacia Remedios in Oakland and Wal-Mart. On Friday, the company celebrated its first store opening in a new chain, Longs Drugs.

The new store, at Redwood City’s Sequoia Station Shopping Center, is Quickhealth’s seventh location since its August 2005 launch in San Mateo. A shop in Farmacia Remedios’ San Francisco Mission district store followed in January 2006, and then locations in two other Farmacia Remedios shops in Oakland and San Jose and two locations in the Rohnert Park and Dinuba branches of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT). A third Wal-Mart location is under construction in Fremont, according to Quickhealth head Dave Mandelkern. He’d originally planned for10 new locations in the last year.

"We might have been a little bit optimistic," said Mandelkern, a former tech entrepreneur. "We’ve gone a little bit more conservatively, not opening up tons of new locations all at once. We’re comfortable with where we’re at."

But this is hardly the last location. Mandelkern said that locating in partnership with pharmacies has been a successful business model for the company, and he plans to continue that growth. He plans on 250 stores by the end of five years, and is now in year two.

"In California alone, there are 200 Wal-Mart stores. California would keep us busy for a long, long time," he said.

The company is one of several nationwide that are capitalizing on the country’s need for quick, easy access to health care. Wal-Mart works with a variety of clinic vendors, including Florida’s Solantic and Minnesota’s MinuteClinic. Like Quickhealth, they offer no-appointment, walk-in service and an up-front menu of prices. Quickhealth differs in that it guarantees a visit with a medical doctor, rather than a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. Unlike other firms, it does not accept insurance.

All the prices, from the $39,

15-minute doctor visit to the $199 "Healthy Lover" package, are printed clearly on wall boards and on the firm’s Web site, www. The company only handles general family-practice medicine, not emergencies.

The firm touts the benefits of its service for California’s nearly 7 million uninsured people, potentially lowering the number of people going to the emergency room for nonurgent care. Dave Hook, spokesman for the San Mateo County Medical Center, said he hasn’t seen numbers to verify that effect since opening.

"We do view Quickhealth as a complement to the health in this area," Hook said.

Quickhealth is the second local in-store clinic that LongsDrugs has partnered with. The chain, which recently announced plans to close 31 of its 437 stores but open 25 to 30 others, formerly had a company called Wellness Express Clinic in six of its shops. But that company folded in November, and Bruce Schwallie, executive VP of business development, said he is open to working more with Quickhealth and other firms in the future.

"Mr. Mandelkern, he’s had a nice quality of product from the very beginning. We’re very impressed with what he’s put together so far," Schwallie said. "As we can accommodate his expansion plans, we certainly will do that."

An interesting twist of Longs Drugs’ real estate makes the company a natural to open clinics, he added. The typical Longs has 15,000 square feet on the sales floor and 6,000 or more square feet of nonsales space, previously used for storage and other tasks. But today’s distribution models don’t rely on massive backroom stock, Schwallie said, so having the clinics rent the space makes sense.

In addition to rent, the host pharmacies get business sent to them by in-store clinics and the two have an agreement for affordable generic drugs, he added.

Quickhealth partner Farmacia Remedios gets an added advantage because its target market is Hispanic immigrants, who are accustomed to being prescribed drugs at the pharmacy, CEO Ben Singer said. Farmacia Remedios is also expanding, and bringing Quickhealth with it.

"I’m opening a fourth one … in downtown San Jose. I’m opening another location in San Jose. Then I’m heading south. I’m going to Los Angeles," Singer said.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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