Retail clinics: Convenience comes at a cost in healthcare

While they are convenient, retail clinics and urgent care centers are driving up health spending because more people are seeking care for routine illnesses more often, according to a new report from PwC’s Health Research Institute.

That was one key finding in the report which said the healthcare industry will face pressure to control costs while offering consumer-friendly services. Making care more convenient for consumers has led to higher use of services, with 40 percent of consumers expected to seek care from a retail clinic in 2016 and 88 percent of consumers saying they are likely to seek treatment there in the future, according to the report.

With options on every corner, the threshold for seeking care is lower, drawing in people who may have forgone care in the past,” according to a report announcement. That shift may reduce costs in the long-run by improving patients’ overall health and wellness, but the increased use of convenient care will be a major reason for medical cost inflation for the foreseeable future, according to the report.

While last year high-cost specialty drugs was the main driver of healthcare trends, this year it’s use of services, Barbara Gniewek, a PwC partner, told CNBC.

Visits to urgent care and retail clinics for common illnesses such as ear infections and colds that consumers might have just ignored in the past, are adding up. Spending on doctor’s office visits has fallen 17 percent over the past 10 years, while expenditures for outpatient clinics are up 19 percent, the report found.

"It's so convenient. But convenience comes at a cost," Gniewek told CNBC. "Instead of the big deductible being a barrier to care, the convenience is cheap enough to be able to put the money out of your own pocket--especially for young people."

Tthere will be more than 3,000 retail clinics in the U.S. by 2017, according to the report. There are 9,300 walk-in, stand-alone urgent care centers in the U.S., with 50 to 100 new clinics expected to open every year.

Advice for providers given the competition? Provide that same convenience to patients, the report says. Many physician offices are doing that by offering longer hours, appointments on weekends and holidays and tweaking schedules so patients can be seen the same day.

- here’s the report
- find the announcement
- read the CNBC article