A recent study in Health Affairs shows that retail clinics, which are often considered cost-efficient, may contribute to the rise in health care spending within the U.S.
There are approximately 2,000 retail clinics based in grocery stores, pharmacies and “big box stores” within the U.S. These clinics offer care for low-acuity conditions.
The study, called “Retail Clinic Visits for Low-Acuity Conditions Increase Utilization and Spending,” shows that every year over six million patient visits are held at these locations.
The study involved insurance claims data from Aetna. This data included 22 cities in the U.S., with 11 low-acuity conditions between 2010 and 2012. The scientists have tracked all of the spending within these conditions to assess whether the clinic visits were adequate replacements for physicians’ offices, emergency department or urgent care centers.
The study results show that three percent of Aetna enrollees visited a retail clinic in 2012. The scientists approximate 42 percent of these visits replaced physician office visits, with 93 percent replacing physician office visits and seven percent replacing emergency department visits.
“Care delivered in retail clinics can be a component of patient-centered care, but must work in coordination with the patients' primary care physician to ensure that care is not further fragmented,” AAFP President Wanda Filer said. “Fragmentation and unaccountable silos of care are in direct opposition to achieving continuous whole-person care with improved health outcomes for both the individual and society.”