The line between hospital and retail clinic continues to blur, with a new partnership between one of the nation’s most prominent health systems and one of its most popular merchants.

Tons of networks are already buddying up to CVS, Walgreens and the like, looking to add access points to their systems, spread their brand in the community and collaborate with clinic-employed nurse practitioners. Now, Kaiser Permanente has begun staffing four Target clinics in the San Diego area with its own clinicians, the two announced Sunday. Under the unique model, Kaiser will employ nurse practitioners and licensed vocational nurses in Target-based clinics and, when necessary, will connect with a doc via telemedicine.

This is the first time that Target, which has 79 clinics in seven states, has partnered with a health system to design every aspect of the clinic experience, says John Holcomb, vice president of health care operations for the Minneapolis-based retail giant. The arrangement will impact everything from the clinic environment, services offered, pricing and practitioners used. Whether this model spreads to other markets, he says, will depend on how the pilot project performs. Three of the clinics — in Vista, San Diego and Fontana — open today, while the fourth, in West Fullerton, debuts Dec. 6.

“We’re really excited about these four clinics and what we can learn from them,” Holcomb says. “The scale is really an output of listening to our guests, listening to Kaiser members, taking all of that feedback in and understanding where it goes from here.”

In the expanded clinic model, patients will have access to a variety of primary care services, including pediatric and adolescent care, family planning and chronic disease management. Kaiser clinicians will care for visitors, regardless of whether they’re members of the system’s health plan and, already, the partners are working on contracting with Medicare, MediCal and Blue Shield of California for certain services provided at those four clinics, according to a press release.

Keeping care affordable and consumer-friendly is top of mind for the $50 billion health system, Kaiser Permanente President and CEO Bernard Tyson told me earlier this year, and I’m sure this model will help. As we explored in our October 2013 cover story, hospitals across the country are forming partnerships with retail clinics to further their reach. Some are finding other alternatives to mimic the convenience and affordability of a retail clinic, whether through renting space in a Walmart, starting their own clinic chains or offering primary care at more convenient hours.

Thomas Charland, founder and CEO of Merchant Medicine, a consulting and research firm that specializes in walk-in medicine, believes the partnership is a boon for Kaiser — adding “tremendous visibility and access for their members.” On the flip side, the retailer stands to gain a lot from the partnership, too.

“This is probably about the most creative use of the retail clinic model I have seen,” Charland told me by email Friday. “For Target, it means more people in their stores because Kaiser owns the market in California. Not that Target isn't good at providing medical services in their other markets, but it is a bit of a stretch for a retailer to worry about claims, revenue cycle management, CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) waivers, CME for their practitioners, etc. Not to mention the cash burn to enter a new market will likely disappear in this new model.”