Retail health care clinics provide treatment for acute conditions like bronchitis as well as vaccinations and other preventive care. With the role of retail clinics expanding and U.S. health care entering a dynamic period of change, it is important to consider what we know about this emerging health care setting.
People who visit retail medical clinics are less likely to return to a primary care physician for future illnesses and have less continuity of care. However, no evidence suggests that retail medical clinics disrupt preventive care or management of diabetes, two important measures of quality of primary care.
Visits to retail medical clinics increased four-fold from 2007 to 2009, with the proportion of patients over age 65 growing from 8 to 19 percent of all visits during this period. More than 44 percent of visits occurred on the weekend or other hours when physician offices typically are closed.
Use of retail medical clinics located in pharmacies and other retail settings increased tenfold between 2007 and 2009. The determining factors in choosing one over a physician's office were found to be age, health status, income, and proximity to the clinic.
About 17 percent of all visits to hospital emergency departments across the United States could be treated at retail medical clinics or urgent care centers, potentially saving $4.4 billion annually in health care costs.
Retail medical clinics located in pharmacies and other stores can provide care for routine illnesses at a lower cost and similar quality as offered in physician offices, urgent care centers or emergency departments.
Retail medical clinics located in pharmacies and other stores typically attract insured and uninsured patients who are seeking help for a small group of easy-to-treat illnesses or preventive care and do not otherwise have a regular health care provider.
Ateev Mehrotra is a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Prior to this, he worked as a researcher at the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the…