Retail Clinics Attracting Those Without Regular Doctors

Users mostly seek preventive care or assistance with easy-to-treat illnesses, study says

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WEDNESDAY, Sept. 10, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- Typical clients of retail health clinics in the United States include patients who don't have regular health care providers and are seeking preventive care or help for easy-to-treat illnesses, says a study by the nonprofit RAND Corporation.

Retail health clinics, which are located in pharmacies and other stores, are becoming increasingly popular. Currently, there are almost 1,000 retail health clinics in the United States, and it's estimated there may be 6,000 by 2011. This is the first study to examine the types of patients who go to these clinics.

"These clinics appear to attract patients who are not routine users of the current health care system. For these patients, the convenience offered by retail clinics may be more important than the continuity provided by a personal physician," lead author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a RAND news release.

Mehrotra and colleagues analyzed more than 1.3 million visits to retail clinics between 2000 and 2007 and compared their findings to national data on visits to primary care physician offices and hospital emergency departments.

Among the findings:

  • Patients ages 18 to 44 accounted for 43 percent of people visiting the clinics, compared to 23 percent of those visiting primary care physician offices.
  • Only 39 percent of patients at retail clinics said they had a primary care doctor, compared with 80 percent of people surveyed nationally.
  • The percentage of retail clinic visits paid for out-of-pocket decreased from 100 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2007.
  • About 90 percent of visits to retail clinics were for preventive care (screening test or blood test) or for treatment of simple acute conditions such as: upper respiratory infections; sinusitis; bronchitis; sore throat; immunizations; inner ear infections; swimmers ear; conjunctivitis; and urinary tract infections. These conditions accounted for 18 percent of primary care visits and 12 percent of emergency department visits.

The study, which didn't examine the quality of care provided by retail clinics, was published in the September/October issue of the journal Health Affairs.

Some critics have suggested that retail health clinics may disrupt patient relationships with primary care doctors, but this study shows that's not a major issue.

"Since most of these patients do not have a primary care physician, there is no relationship to disrupt," Mehrotra noted. "However, future studies should investigate quality, the likelihood that patients are getting needed preventive and follow-up care."

More information

The Center for the Advancement of Health has more about retail medical clinics.

SOURCE: RAND Corporation, news release, Sept. 10, 2008

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