How retail clinics can bridge healthcare gaps

Retail clinics could play a vital role in addressing sociodemographic aspects of healthcare, according to a new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Retail clinics' convenience and lower costs appeal to consumers, but their expanded presence in the market could also benefit the healthcare sector as well, the report, "Building a Culture of Health: The Value Proposition of Retail Clinics," noted. The report found that retail or urgent care clinics could handle up to 27 percent of emergency room visits, generating annual savings of up to $4.4 billion. Moreover, retail clinics and traditional health systems have already formed more than 100 partnerships, according to the report.

The low costs of retail clinics is one way they contribute to a "culture of health," the report said. The cost of care for commercially insured patients averages $110 at clinics, compared to $166 at physicians' offices and $570 at emergency departments. In addition, the clinics offer accessiblity and transparency. Continued coordination with the health system could further enhance their value.

To get the most overall value from them, the report provides nine recommendations. Here are three of them:

  • Expand clinical measures to weigh retail clinics' performance against other primary care providers and improve the quality measures of retail clinical care
  • Provide incentives to clinics owned by "big box" stores such as Wal-Mart to complement clinic services with features like healthier food options or on-site pharmaceutical assistance
  • Focus on regulatory barriers at the state or federal level that may restrict retail clinics, such as scope-of-practice-laws (clinics typically employ nurse practitioners and physician assistants), regulations on pediatric vaccinations and Medicare payments for telehealth services

Retail clinics' long-term impact, the report states, depends on both how well they coordinate care with other healthcare providers and economic factors. To ensure their longevity, they, along with payers and health systems, must embrace programs that address patient access and their non-clinical needs.

"These are weighty challenges," the report states. "[I]f retail clinics overcome them, they have the potential to become a much more powerful enabler of a Culture of Health."

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)