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Doctors Express to open first local store in St. Petersburg

Doctors Express, a chain of quick clinics for less-than-emergency room injuries that charges about $70 a visit, is setting up shop in the Tampa Bay area.

With a clinic opening in June in a remodeled restaurant at 1530 Fourth St. N in St. Petersburg, the Towson, Md., company plans to have three or four locations running on both sides of Tampa Bay within a year.

It's yet one more option from a fast-growing cluster of chains looking to win insurance company cost-cutting favor without jeopardizing quality of care. They aim to siphon off the less complicated urgent medical care business — anything as serious as setting broken bones or suturing deep cuts —- from more expensive doctors offices or emergency rooms that routinely cost seven to 10 times as much.

The field is filling fast. Mini-clinics staffed with nurse practitioners already work out of discount stores, CVS and Walgreens. They can write prescriptions under supervision of their staff doctor on the phone.

Others cost a bit more and have a doctor, digital X-ray machine and basic lab on site. Hospital-affiliated walk-in clinics, such as Bayfront Medical Center Convenient Care have expanded, while Humana Inc. paid $790 million for Concentra, the nation's biggest urgent care chain with 300 locations.

Meantime, urgent care chains like MedExpress, formerly known locally as Doctor's Walk-In Clinic, have been adding locations. And Gov. Rick Scott recently decided to sell his family's interest in a Jacksonville chain of clinics he founded called Solantic Corp.

Founded by two doctors, Doctors Express is the first big chain to grow by selling franchises.

"We have 40 clinics open and 100 under construction," said Peter Ross, chief executive officer who recently moved to Sarasota. "This industry is made up of regional players. We aim to quickly become the second-largest national one."

The typical location has four exam rooms, a comfortable waiting area and sees up to 100 patients a day, twice a typical family doctor.

All records are digital, although by law patients still have to fill out their information by hand.

While the doctor can also do medical tests, school and sports physicals and drug tests, neither appointments nor continuing care are offered.

"We aim to get you in quickly and back on your way within an hour," said Gary Steadman, a 65-year-old former developer who holds the St. Petersburg franchise. "Business people run the behind-the-scenes business, but our doctors call the shots."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Doctors Express to open first local store in St. Petersburg 05/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 2:35pm]
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