You have probably seen one or more of them popping up in your neighborhood – walk-in medical clinics located inside of store chains such as Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS. A new report is saying that these growing “retail clinics” are making a real difference in providing access to healthcare for many Americans.
Retail clinics arrived on the healthcare scene in the early 2000s as a convenient and affordable alternative to doctors’ offices, urgent care centers, and emergency rooms (ERs). Because they are usually in big box stores or pharmacies such as Walmart and CVS, retail clinics are conveniently located. And because they serve customers on a walk-in basis, they are convenient to access. Their services include basic primary care for minor illnesses and injuries, such as sore throats, bug bites, and minor burns as well as preventive primary care, such as vaccines and diabetes glucose monitoring.
A recent study found that the prices in retail clinics are around 80% lower than ER prices for the same services. Retail clinics thus have the potential to not only expand medical services but to do so while saving money.
A recent study by Gensler research found that, “Retail health is emerging as a means of delivering quality, convenient care to millions of consumers, as well as a model for healthcare systems to consider when providing services to new and existing patient populations.”
According to a National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) report, strong consumer response to retail clinics has even Federally Qualified Health Centers evaluating retail health from care and economic perspective. The retail model, suggests the NACHC, “enables community health centers to offer patients such benefits as customer awareness, friendliness, and perceptions of quality.”
The NACHC report also said that “Healthcare can learn valuable lessons from retail’s example. Engaging people means connecting with them where they live, and that’s a place away from the hospital or outside of the acute care setting.”
What Medical Need Is Retail Healthcare Providing?
The studies on the benefits of retail healthcare all point to it providing the same unmet need of medical consumers. To maintain better health, people want easy access to basic healthcare services, but increasingly they also want to maintain their health while they are still well, not only when responding to a health emergency.
To incorporate wellness into their daily lives, consumers need access to on-demand information, extended hours, convenient locations, walk-in appointments, affordable services, and, more than ever, transparent pricing – retail healthcare clinics provide all of that and more.
Since the first retail health clinic opened in 2000, 44 percent of patient visits have taken place when physician offices typically are closed. Consumers have been clear in conveying that they’re looking for convenience and flexibility, and retail healthcare providers can offer these by designing spaces that are both locally relevant and tailored to specific needs. These types of choice in healthcare delivery are projected to drive 25-30 percent growth annually in retail clinics.
Why the Current Uptick in Retail Health?
There are several reasons for the current, and expected future growth, of retail healthcare. Primarily, it is due to the millions of new “healthcare consumers” created by the Affordable Care Act.
Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports a growing deficit in primary care doctors, predicting the shortfall to reach 45,000 doctors in 2020. This shortage will make getting to a primary doctor even harder for patients seeking treatment. Retail health clinics are helping to close this gap by providing lower-cost treatments for non-emergency conditions.