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Retail Clinics Don't Reduce ER Visits

By John Commins  
   November 14, 2016

Contrary to researchers' expectations, data shows that for low-acuity ailments, the proliferation of retail healthcare clinics across the United States does not reduce patient volumes at hospital emergency departments.

Retail medical clinics located near hospital emergency departments do not reduce visits to the emergency departments for minor health ailments, a RAND Corporation study shows.

The study, published online this week in Annals of Emergency Medicine, examined five years of data from 2,000 emergency departments in 23 states for 11 low-acuity ailments such as respiratory infections and ear aches.

"One hope for retail clinics was that they might divert patients from making expensive visits to the emergency department for minor conditions such as bronchitis or urinary tract infections, but we found no evidence that this has been happening," said Grant Martsolf, lead author of the study and a policy researcher at RAND.

"Instead of lowering costs, retail clinics may be substituting for care in other settings such as primary care practices or spur some patients to seek care for problems they previously would have treated on their own," Martsolf said.

There are nearly 2,000 retail clinics across the United States now, and they receive more than 6 million patient visits annually. These clinics are often staffed by nurse practitioners, with prices that are often considerably lower than at a physician's office or an emergency department, often because fewer tests are performed.


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John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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