NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 27, 2009

Since 2000, nearly 1,000 "retail clinics" -- offering routine care like sports physicals and immunizations and treatment for minor illnesses like strep throat -- have opened their doors inside pharmacies and grocery stores across the United States.  Retail chain operators proposed that the new clinics would improve access to medical care among uninsured or underserved populations.  However, these clinics have been opened more often in higher-income areas that are less likely to be classified as medically underserved, according to a new study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

By combining mapping software with Census data and a listing of nearly 1,000 retail clinics across the nation, the authors found that census tracts with retail clinics had a lower population of black residents, lower poverty rates and higher median incomes than census tracts without retail clinics:

  • The convenience factors of retail clinics may not help disadvantaged populations if clinics are located too far away to be reached easily.
  • People living in poorer areas are less likely to have health insurance, less likely to have a regular source of medical care and may have transportation problems.
  • By tending to locate in richer neighborhoods, retail clinics may not be meeting their full potential to help address these problems.

Previous research shows that a third of retail clinic patients pay for their visits out of pocket and more than 60 percent of patients report not having a primary care provider.  But the new findings suggest that instead of filling an unmet medical need, placement of clinics in more advantaged neighborhoods may act as an adjunct to existing, more traditional medical care.

Moreover, the authors say that to further expand their reach, municipalities should consider offering incentives to store operators to open clinics in underserved areas where they already operate retail outlets.

Source: Holly Auer, "Growing retail clinic trend makes few inroads in poor, underserved areas," University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, May 25, 2009; based upon: Craig E. Pollack and Katrina Armstrong, "The Geographic Accessibility of Retail Clinics for Underserved Populations," Archives of Internal Medicine, Vol. 169 No. 10, May 25, 2009.

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