Retail healthcare: Convenience, access often trump traditional care

Given a choice between the doctor's office or a retail health clinic when one of his children is sick, Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, said he chooses the retail clinic every time.

Why? "Convenience is the biggest reason. Many doctors' offices are open only on weekdays and during business hours. This also happens to be when most adults work and when children attend school," he a piece for The New York Times.

Access to care, he said, is also the reason people make unnecessary visits to the emergency room for care. It's not, as some industry experts have speculated, due to lack of insurance., according to Carroll. "The emergency room is open when people can actually go," he said.

But, retail clinics are now filling that need and big name providers and pharmacies have taken notice. Earlier this year Advocate Health Care, the largest health system in Illinois, announced plans to take ownership and operation of Walgreens' 56 healthcare clinics across the Chicago area. Rite Aid, which will soon be taken over by Walgreens, opened 23 health clinics in 2015, Healthcare Finance News reports.  And CVS, which has 1,500 MinuteClinics across the country, will have an even greater presence in the market with the purchase of Target clinics and pharmacies.

"Parents bring their children to retail clinics to take care of quick, acute problems. Swap ear infections for immunizations, and you've got the main reasons adults use retail clinics, too," Carroll wrote.

But the clinics also serve a purpose for more chronic illness care, The American Journal of Managed Care reports. The clinics' convenient hours are ideal for the follow-up care needed to manage diabetes. For example, it is when people go to clinics for an ear ache or flu shot, that they often learn they have Type 2 diabetes, which often has no symptoms in its early stages.

The clinics are available to these patients, who may not have a family doctor or can't take time off from work to visit their primary care physicians. "The retail model meets the needs of persons with diabetes, by being available where patients are and by building trust--through customer service and cost transparency," the article said.  

To learn more:
- check out The New York Times piece
- here's the article from Healthcare Finance News
- read the AJMC article