As wait times to see a doctor lengthen, more and more people are turning to retail health clinics.
The growing acceptance, use and demand for retail medicine is driven by rapid advances in digital technology, evolving demographic and cultural expectations and legislative changes in healthcare delivery—most of which were underestimated just a few years ago.
Retail clinics, which began operating in their present format in 2000, are medical clinics located in pharmacies, grocery stores and “big box” stores like Target and Walmart. These clinics offer extended weekend and evening hours, walk-in availability and short wait times. Many visits to retail clinics are in the evenings and weekends, when primary care offices are not available. The clinics treat a limited range of health conditions, such as minor infections and injuries, and provide vaccines and other preventive care. Care is delivered by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. Prices are typically fixed and transparent.1
A key facilitator of retail (i.e., non-traditional site) clinics is the development of easy-to-use rapid point-of-care testing (POCT), electronic data storage, telephone apps for mobile information exchange, clinic locations and appointments and connections to other on-site services like the pharmacy allows defined, but complete services to be,provided.
In an early study,1 the largest group of clinic users were younger adults, age 18–44, who accounted for 43% of patients. Nationally, this group made up only 23% of patients who visited primary care physicians. This study further showed:
- Only about one-third of clinic users said that they had a primary care physician.
- Two-thirds of retail clinic visits were paid for with health insurance, compared with 90% of visits to primary care physicians.
- About 90% of visits to retail clinics were for preventive care and for ten simple acute conditions: upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, sore throat, immunizations, inner ear infections, swimmer’s ear, conjunctivitis, urinary tract infections and blood tests. The same conditions accounted for 18% of visits to primary care physician offices and 12% of emergency department visits.
Demographically, this data indicates millennials are the largest demographic group accessing these retail clinics—reflecting their economic situation, as well as the cultural preferences of this generation (convenient rapid access, less likely to have a particular primary physician, adept with mobile technology). As a side note, more recently, the percentage of users over 65 has also grown rapidly, possible reflecting longer wait times to access traditional physician services.
A recent study found that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has added pressure to a two-fold problem that already exists in our country: a physician shortage and increasing wait times. The study’s conclusion notes that “an increase in the number of people with access to health insurance does not always guarantee access to a physician.”2
As wait times to see a doctor lengthen, more and more people are turning to retail health clinics. The number of visits to such clinics quadrupled from 1.48 million in 2007 to 5.97 million in 2009, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs, and topped 10 million in 2012, New research by Accenture forecasts that the number of retail health clinics will exceed 2,800 by 2017 with a capacity for 25 million patient visits in 2017, up from 16 million in 2014.
- The Evolving Role of Retail Clinics. RAND Corporation. Research Briefs.
- Rosario, K. Wait Times to See a Doctor Have Increased Under Obamacare. LifeNews.com. NATIONAL.