Use of Retail Medical Clinics on the Rise

A recent study published in the American Journal of Managed Care reported an increase in the use of retail medical clinics located in pharmacies and other retail settings over a 2-year period.

Researchers from the RAND Corporation collected data from 13.3 commercially-insured people in 22 markets between 2007 and 2009. They identified 11 acute conditions, including upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, ear infections and the flu, that can be easily managed at a retail clinic and studied the trends in retail clinic utilization for these conditions. The rate of clinic visits increased from 0.6 visits per month per 1,000 enrollees in January 2007 to 6.5 monthly visits per 1,000 enrollees in December 2009.

The biggest factor for visiting a retail clinic was proximity. The researchers also found that women, younger adults (between the ages of 18 and 44), those with higher incomes (median income of $59,000) and patients in good health without a chronic condition were more likely to frequent a retail clinic. There was no link between the availability of a primary care physician and use of a retail clinic.

Care provided at a retail clinic costs 30-40% less than similar care provided at a physician’s office and 80% less than emergency room care. The effect of more frequent use of retail clinics on other health care providers remains to be seen.

“If the growth in retail clinic visits that we noted represents substitution for other sources of care, then the increase in retail clinic use could lead to lower costs,” J. Scott Ashwood, MA, the study’s lead author, stated in a press release. “However, if these visits represent new utilization of induced demand – in other words, patients are seeking care when they would have otherwise stayed home – then costs could increase. Answering these questions requires additional study.”

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