Retail Clinics’ Popularity Grows with Patients, Insurers

Margaret Dick Tocknell, November 30, 2011

In-store retail clinics are playing a growing role in the delivery of ambulatory care, according to a study, which finds that proximity and convenience are the main draws. Access to primary care is not a factor in the use of retail clinics.

Retail clinics, those in-store locations that focus on the delivery of preventive care such as flu shots, as well the treatment of minor health problems, are playing a growing role in the delivery of ambulatory care, according to the latest RAND Corporation study on the retail clinic trend.

People are "voting with their feet," says Scott Ashwood, a RAND researcher who is the report's lead author. With more health plans covering visits to retail clinics, and with copayments equal to those at a physician's office, convenience and proximity are drawing patients to retail clinics.

That's all good news for healthcare insurers, because according to earlier RAND studies, the clinics offer quality services for routine illnesses at prices that are lower than even the cost of physician office visits. And here's an added bottom-line bonus: RAND researchers estimate that 17% of ER visits could be handled at retail clinics or urgent care centers, with a potential total savings of $4.4 billion annually.

The latest RAND study in the retail clinic series looks at the demographics of the clinic patients and what drives utilization by the commercially insured. It appears in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Margaret Dick Tocknell Margaret Dick Tocknell is a reporter/editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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