Retail clinics increase ten-fold, health systems capitalize on trend

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With retail clinics increasing ten-fold, more health systems and hospitals are capitalizing on the trend and getting in on the retail movement. Between 2007 and 2009, retail medical clinics at pharmacies and other retail settings have risen from a monthly tally of 0.6 visits per 1,000 enrollees in January 2007, to 6.5 visits per 1,000 enrollees in December 2009, according to a new study by RAND Corporation, published in the American Journal of Managed Care.

Surprisingly, the availability of primary care physicians didn't affect use of retail clinics. The strongest predictor was proximity.

"It appears that those with a higher income place more value on their time, and will use clinics for convenience if they have a simple health issue such as a sore throat or earache," senior study author Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, investigator at RAND and the University of Pittsburgh, said in a RAND press release yesterday.

Among the more frequent retail clientele were women, those ages 18 to 44, people with incomes of more than $59,000, and those in generally good health. In addition to convenience, patients also might be attracted to the price. Retail clinics are 40 percent cheaper than similar care at a physician's office and 80 percent less expensive than an emergency room visit, according to the press release.

For cases that are not serious emergencies, hospitals are steering patients to clinics, reports The Wall Street Journal blog. According to RAND, the most common conditions at retail clinics were upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, ear infections, flu, and conjunctivitis.

This week's announcement that Emory Healthcare, Georgia's largest hospital system is partnering with CVS MinuteClinic may demonstrate a broader trend of traditional hospital systems aligning with convenient clinics. Earlier this year, Mayo Clinic announced it moved into the Mall of America in what it calls the "Create Your Mayo Clinic Health Experience" center, a 2,500-square-foot space of high-tech interaction. And Walmart recently declared it wanted to be the nation's biggest primary care provider with its entrance into the retail care market.

If patients went to retail clinics for minor acute illnesses, strains, and fractures, it could save a potential $4.4 billion a year, according to WSJ.

For more information:
- read the WSJ blog post
- read the RAND press release
- check out the study abstract

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