Retail clinics may compromise primary care relationship

Patients who visit a retail clinic for a minor illness, such as sore throat or urinary tract infection, are more likely to go back to the retail setting than their primary care physician the next time they get sick but will remain loyal to their PCPs for chronic conditions, according to a new study from the RAND Corporation published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Among the 127,358 patients studied, about 23,000 used a retail clinic for the flu or other short-lived health problem in 2008, while the rest went to their primary care doctor, according to the study. Over the following year, those who used a retail clinic for their first illness had 40 visits to a primary care doctor per 100 patients, versus 68 visits per 100 among those who initially visited their PCPs.

According to researchers, patients who make a habit of using retail clinics may get equal-quality care for less cost, but they also risk continuity of care, one of the major benefits of the medical home model, Reuters reported. However, the team found no evidence that use of retail medical clinics compromised office-based preventive care or diabetes management.

"The interpretation of our findings depends on one's view about the relative importance of different aspects of primary care," study author Rachel O. Reid of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, commented in a statement. "Retail clinics are still in their infancy, and, over time, we may or may not observe a more negative impact of retail clinics on preventive care or continuity of medical care."

Visits to retail clinics quadrupled between 2007 and 2009, reaching nearly 6 million, according to a separate study by Rand in August.

To learn more:
- read the Reuters article in the Chicago Tribune
- see the statement from the RAND Corporation
- check out the abstract from the Journal of General Internal Medicine