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Retail clinics, located within larger retail stores, treat a limited number of acute conditions and offer a small set of preventive services. Although there are nearly 1,200 such clinics in the United States, a great deal about their utilization, relationships with other parts of the health care system, and quality of care remains unknown. The federal government has taken only limited action regarding retail clinics, and little evidence exists about the potential costs and benefits of integrating retail clinics into federal programs and initiatives.

Through a literature review, semistructured interviews, and a panel of experts, the authors show that retail clinics have established a niche in the health care system based on their convenience and customer service. Levels of patient satisfaction and of the quality and appropriateness of care appear comparable to those of other provider types. However, we know little about the effects of retail clinic use on preventive services, care coordination, and care continuity. As clinics begin to expand into other areas of care, including chronic disease management, and as the number of patients with insurance increases and the shortage of primary care physicians continues, answering outstanding questions about retail clinics' role in the health care system will become even more important. These changes will create new opportunities for health policy to influence both how retail clinics function and the ways in which their care is integrated with that of other providers.

This work was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services. The research was conducted in RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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