NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Visits to Retail Health Clinics Grow Fourfold

August 21, 2012

Retail clinics are becoming an increasingly popular avenue for people to get access to treatment for common ailments. These are simple walk-in clinics found in pharmacies, grocery stores or other retail stores. The rapid growth of retail clinics makes it clear that they are meeting a patient need. Convenience and after-hours accessibility are possible drivers of this growth, say Ateev Mehrotra, a policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, and Judith R. Lave, a professor of health economics in the Department of Health Policy at the University of Pittsburgh.

The presence and impact of retail clinics have increased substantially across the country.

  • Started in 2000, the scope of retail clinics remained with treating simple ailments such as upper respiratory problems, urinary tract infections and simple preventive care.
  • Between 2007 and 2009, retail clinics increased fourfold, totaling near 5.97 million in 2009.
  • In 2010, retail clinics expanded the scope of their operations to include chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.

There are several reasons why demand is increasing.

  • First, locations are convenient and patients do not need appointments.
  • Second, after-hours care is provided -- 44.4 percent of retail clinic patients visit when physician offices are closed.
  • Third, it is a cheap and easy way to pay for quick access -- one visit costs an average of $78.

The role of retail clinics is expected to rise after the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented because of the increased demand for care and people that don't want to wait in long lines to see a doctor.

Opponents argue that retail clinics have the potential to disrupt patient-physician relationships and continuity of care. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that these claims are unwarranted, as retail clinics continue to prove they are a legitimate avenue for people to seek access to treatment.  Moreover, the type of care provided mostly includes treatments for common ailments and vaccinations so that if someone had a more serious problem, they would still see their primary care physician.

Source: Ateev Mehrotra and Judith R. Lave, "Visits to Retail Clinics Grew Fourfold from 2007 to 2009, although their Share of Overall Outpatient Visits Remains Low," Health Affairs, August 2012.


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