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.

Upside:

  • 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.

Downside:

  • 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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