Researchers studied claims in 2007-2009 and enrollment data for more than 13 million Aetna enrollees in 22 markets where retail clinics provide a treatment option. About 29% of the enrollees visited a retail clinic during the study period.
The study focused on 11 acute conditions that account for 88% of retail clinic visits: allergic rhinitis, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, influenza, otitis externa, otitis media, pharyngitis, upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, sinusitis, and viral infections.
Retail clinic visits for those 11 conditions increased 10-fold from January 2007 (less than one visit per 1,000 enrollees) to December 2009 (almost six visits per 1,000 enrollees). Researchers don't know if the enrollees selected retail clinics for treatment over a physician office visit or a trip to the ER, but care initiated at retail clinics is 30% to 40% cheaper than similar care at a doctor's office and a whopping 80% less expensive than care received at the local ER. That has to make health plan executives smile.
According to the report, distance from the retail clinic was the strongest predictor of use. Aetna enrollees living less than one mile away were significantly more likely to use a retail clinic than someone living one to five miles away. The most common users were young adults with no chronic diseases. That demographic is less likely to have a relationship with a primary care provider and may visit a retail clinic because they have no alternative. It may also indicate that "retail clinics continue to appeal to a more select group of patients rather than to a more general population," the report says.