Study: NPs in retail clinics could reduce healthcare costs

Retail-based clinics, already a proven healthcare cost saver, can even further reduce costs when nurse practitioners (NPs) are allowed to practice and prescribe independently, according to a new study published in the November issue of Health Affairs.

Researchers compared the two-week cost associated with a clinic visit for 9,503 patients in 27 states who visited retail and non-retail clinics between 2004 and 2007--about $704 per person when translated into 2013 dollar value.

In states where physicians oversaw NPs, costs averaged $543, as compared to $484 in states where NPs practiced independently. In states where NPs had independence in practice and prescribing costs averaged $509, according to researchers Joanne Spetz, Ph.D., a professor at the Institute for Health Policy Studies and associate director for research Strategy at the Center for the Health professionals at the University of California San Francisco, and Stephen T. Parente, director of the medical Industry Leadership Institute at the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota, 

If retail-based clinic visits make up for 10 percent of all outpatient primary care visits by 2015, national cost savings would be $2.2 billion, adding on an additional $810 million if NPs in all 50 states practiced independently. That savings could grow even more--by $472 million--if NPs could prescribe on their own too, researchers said.

"Our findings underscore earlier research indicating that when NPs practice to the full extent of their training, they can deliver highly efficient high-quality primary care," Spetz said in a University of California San Francisco article. "We believe that primary care practices should leverage NPs' knowledge and skills and the increased availability of convenient care delivery settings to expand access to health care."

Despite their cost savings, not everyone supports retail clinics. The Rhode Island Medical Society released a position paper stating "health care services delivered in an RBC are isolated, commercial transactions between strangers. By design, the RBC provides narrowly focused, disarticulated, fragmentary care on a strictly protocol-driven, episodic and impersonal basis," FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- check out the University of California San Francisco article