Use of retail medical clinics continues to grow, study finds

August 16, 2012

Fast-growing retail medical clinics are attracting more older patients and delivering more preventive care, particularly flu shots and other vaccinations, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation.

Researchers found that visits to retail increased four-fold from 2007 to 2009, with the proportion of patients over age 65 growing from 8 percent to 19 percent of all visits during this period.

More than 44 percent of visits to the clinics occurred on the weekend or other hours when typically are closed, suggesting retail clinics meet a need for convenient care, according to the study published online as a Web First by the journal Health Affairs.

"Retail medical clinics continue to grow rapidly and attract new segments of users," said lead author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and a researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "They remain just a small part of outpatient medical care, but appear to have tapped into patients' needs."

While retail clinics have begun promoting new services such as caring for such as diabetes, it remains uncertain whether demand for the clinics will continue to grow as the federal Act is enacted.

"If demand for primary medical care drives longer wait times to see a doctor as it has following in Massachusetts, then this could drive greater demand for convenient alternatives such as retail clinics," Mehrotra said.

The study is the latest in a series of reports from RAND Health that has documented the rapid growth of retail medical clinics, which are located in drug stores or other . The clinics typically are staffed by and offer basic types of health care at clearly posted prices.

Physician groups have expressed concern that retail clinics could disrupt patients' relationships with their and interrupt continuity of care. The criticism has increased since some clinic operators began offering care for chronic illnesses such as asthma and high blood pressure.

Researchers examined the latest trends in the use of retail medical clinics by analyzing information from 2007 through 2009 obtained from the three largest retail clinic operators, which account for 81 percent of the clinics operated nationally. Trends in usage were compared to earlier findings from 2000 to 2006.

Visits to retail clinics reached 5.97 million in 2009, up from 1.48 million in 2007. But retail clinics still account for only a small slice of outpatient medical care when compared to the estimated 117 million emergency room visits and 577 million visits to doctors' offices made each year.

Visits to retail medical clinics for vaccinations increased sharply from 2007 to 2009, researchers found. Another recent study published by RAND researchers found that vaccination visits to the three major retail clinic chains quadrupled to more than 1.9 million in 2009. Most of the inoculations given were for influenza.

"The number of vaccinations provided at retail clinics could grow even larger if providers started counseling patients about the need for inoculations when they visit the clinics for other care," said Lori Uscher-Pines, an associate policy researcher at RAND.

In the latest study, researchers found that the proportion of retail clinics visits made for acute medical problems dropped from 78 percent to 51 percent. There was a corresponding increase in visits for preventive care, making up more than 47 percent of visits by 2009. The study does not capture the impact of a push made by retail medical clinic operators beginning in 2010 to increase the services offered for chronic illnesses.

The proportion of patients who reported that they did not have a primary care physician remained at more than 60 percent, although researchers had expected the number to drop as use of the clinics increased. They say it is possible that patients with no or weak relationships with a primary care physician are more likely to seek care at a retail clinic than patients with strong relationships with a physician.

Explore further: Use of retail medical clinics rises 10-fold over 2-year period, study finds

Related Stories

Use of retail medical clinics rises 10-fold over 2-year period, study finds

November 22, 2011
Use of retail medical clinics located in pharmacies and other retail settings increased 10-fold between 2007 and 2009, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.