The evolution of health care services at your neighborhood grocery or box store has reached the North Bay.

Safeway has partnered with Quest Diagnostics, joining Walmart, Target, and CVS, in opening the Patient Service Center at Safeway in San Rafael. It provides lab testing for cholesterol levels, glucose levels for diabetes, and thyroid function. No pre-screening drug testing is currently being done, but it is planned for sometime in 2017.

San Rafael’s Northgate Safeway was one the first of 12 pilot locations across the U.S. They are being followed by another 56 Safeway locations across the U.S., according to Chris Grant, executive director, Quest National Patient Services.

“The model is working really well for us. Patients are responding faster than we anticipated, and new patients are finding us as well,” Grant said.

After several years of very slow growth coinciding with the recession and its aftermath, retail clinics numbered close to 1,200 in 2010, and recent estimates predict that there will be about 3,000 by 2017, nearly double the 2014 levels, according to a Rand Corporation study.

CVS has been rapidly expanding its walkin MinuteClinics in 34 states. It has 51 in California, and expects to have 1,500 clinics nationwide by the end of 2017, according to the Convenient Care Association.

There are several reasons for the popularity of these kinds of clinics.

One, it’s cheap and convenient. Services at some locations are available seven days a week and include screenings, vaccinations, physicals, women’s services and skin conditions. Prices are transparently listed on CVS’s website, with costs per visit are in the $89 to $129 range, with additional charges for lab tests. A TB test, for instance, is $35 at a CVS clinic.

A shortage of primary care doctors is also driving the trend. The shortfall is expected to reach 45,000 by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. This dearth has been blamed on more doctors choosing higher-paying specialties, too little money for hospital residencies and aging of the baby boom generation, which now needs more medical care.

The Affordable Care Act is also adding to the demand, with millions more Americans insured, making it even harder to find a primary care doctor.

Based in New Jersey, Quest is one of the largest medical labs in the U.S. It serves one in three adult Americans and half the physicians and hospitals in the U.S. each year. The company operates 2,300 patient service centers and dozens of labs throughout the U.S., and in 2016 generated $7.52 billion in revenue.

The Safeway labs are located next to the pharmacy. Patients can make appointments or walk in. Checkin is done electronically, and the site includes a reception area, private rooms, lab technicians and equipment, and pagers for patients if there is a wait.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at or call 707-521-4259.