NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 14, 2010

The growth of the Internet, high-speed telecommunications networks and electronic medical records have made it possible for patients to seek care in a variety of clinical settings without losing the continuity of care a primary care provider offers.  Health care entrepreneurs using these technologies in retail clinics are making medical care increasingly accessible and convenient, while raising quality and reducing costs, says Devon Herrick, a Senior Fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA).

Many patients have difficulty finding a physician, obtaining an appointment or taking time from work for a traditional office visit.  Access to medical care outside of the traditional office setting is particularly important for working patients with routine medical problems.  Hospital emergency room (ER) use is both costly and time-consuming.  Often, however, the ER is the only way to reach a physician after hours.  As a result, patients overuse emergency rooms, says Herrick:

  • Of the 119 million visits to hospital ERs in a given year, 55 percent are for nonemergencies.
  • A 2006 survey of California hospitals found that nearly half of ER patients (46 percent) thought they could have resolved their medical problem with a visit to their primary care physician, but were unable to obtain timely access.

Increasingly, however, patients have less costly and more convenient options for routine medical needs, says Herrick:

  • Walk-in clinics are small health care centers located inside big-box retailers (such as Walmart and Target) or in strip shopping center storefronts.
  • They are staffed by nurse practitioners and offer a limited scope of services.
  • The consulting firm Deloitte estimates there are 1,100 to 1,200 retail clinics currently (approximately 100 are open only seasonally) and the number is likely to grow to 3,200 by 2014.

MinuteClinic is the pioneer of clinics operating within large retailers.  It allows shoppers in places like CVS pharmacies to get routine medical services such as immunizations and strep tests without an appointment, says Herrick:

  • Most clinics are open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and for more limited weekend hours.
  • Prices -- which are clearly listed -- range from $30 to $110, and are often half as much as traditional medical practices charge. In addition, electronic medical records are kept for all visits.

Source: Devon Herrick, "Retail Clinics: Convenient and Affordable Care," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 686, January 14, 2010.

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