Retail Clinics Drive New Healthcare Use

Once the stepchild of the American health care system, primary care is now the linchpin of efforts to improve the health and health care of individuals and communities and to bring down costs. Factors contributing to the demand for primary care include the coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act and an aging and growing population. But here is the problem: there is a shortage of primary care providers, already acute in some areas of the country, and it’s expected to significantly grow in the years ahead. Coupled with consumer expectations that everything should be immediately accessible at the touch of a screen, it comes as no surprise that demand for accessible primary care, including through retail clinics, is increasing. What impact are these clinics having on cost, access, and quality? The researchers found that 58 percent of retail clinic visits represented new utilization and not substitution for more costly primary care or emergency department (ED) visits. This net cost of this new utilization was determined to be $14 per person per year. While the study found that retail clinics increased costs by creating new utilization, it did not consider the value of the new utilization for patients who previously, for whatever reason, did not or could not access such services.