Understanding the Problem Physicians Have With Retail Clinics

Two articles highlight the upside and downside of retail clinics.

  • Iglehart JK. NEJM 2015; 301-3
  • Chang JE et al. NEJM 2015; 382-8

Currently, there are ~1900 retail clinics with four main ‘players:’ CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, and Target.  However, Target has recently made a deal with CVS and Walmart is expanding into retail clinics as well.  Almost all of these clinics accept private insurance and medicare; growing numbers accept medicaid too.

Retail clinics offer a limited scope of care and typically are staffed by midlevel providers (nurse practitioners or physician assistants).  In contrast, urgent cares offer more complex services and typically are staffed by physicians.


  • For consumers, the key advantages of retail clinics: lower costs with transparent pricing, convenience due to extended hours and locations, and often short wait times.


  • Potential disruption in longitudinal care (“medical home”)

What about quality?

  • “Research has not found that retail clinics deliver poor quality care, overprescribe antibiotics, or adversely impact delivery of preventive care.”

Do Retail Clinics Enhance Access?

  • Yes but these clinics are disproportionately located in areas with relatively high income.  Nevertheless, “approximately 61% of retail-clinic visits and 37% of urgent care visits involve patients without a primary care provider.”

Patient navigation:

  • “One study …showed that patients did properly self-triage, with more than 88% of retail-clinic episodes resolved in one visit. Another study showed that 2.3% of retail-clinic patients were triaged to an emergency department or physician’s office.”

Why Would Physicians Oppose These Retail Clinics?

  • While primary care organizations have raised concerns about quality and continuity of care, a basic economic issue is likely at work as well.  “The current reimbursement system renders simple acute health problems high-margin work that can offset losses from treating more complex problems.

Bottomline: Retail clinics are filling a need for many patients in terms of cost and convenience for simple acute problems.

Related blog post: AAP -Behind the Scenes (Part 1)

Leek's Marina, Grand Tetons

Leek’s Marina, Grand Tetons


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